- WILL CALIFORNIA CHROME SHINE BRIGHTER IN 2016?
- RAISE A SECRET ON THE ‘MARK’ FOR MIDNIGHT LUTE
- FRESH START FOR FOREVER DARLING IN SANTA YNEZ
- SAN GABRIEL DISTANCE NO PROBLEM FOR BAL A BALI
- VANITY IN JUNE LONG-RANGE GOAL FOR BEHOLDER
ESPINOZA WORKS CALIFORNIA CHROME SATURDAY
Tom Mix had his Tony, Gene Autry had his Champion and Roy Rogers had his Trigger, but none was as comfortable in the saddle as Victor Espinoza was on American Pharoah.
A jockey doesn’t attain unprecedented accomplishments without a willing and wonderful partner, human or otherwise. Espinoza’s victories on American Pharoah in 2015 not only produced the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, but a Breeders’ Cup Classic king as well.
No horse in the sport’s long and storied history had ever hit racing’s “Grand Slam” before. Horse of the Year honors for American Pharoah are a mere formality.
But with the colt’s retirement to stud, it’s back to reality in 2016 for Espinoza, a self-proclaimed “happy Mexican” now looking forward to reuniting with California Chrome, who won two-thirds of the Triple Crown last year and was named Horse of the Year 2014.
Reality never looked better.
Espinoza, currently eligible for racing’s Hall of Fame and a finalist for Santa Anita’s George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, will work California Chrome six furlongs before Saturday’s first race at Santa Anita as the California-bred son of Lucky Pulpit trained by Art Sherman prepares for the Grade II San Pasqual Stakes on Jan. 9, his first race since running second in the Dubai World Cup last March 28.
Espinoza can hardly wait.
“He kind of grew up a little since last March,” Espinoza said of California Chrome, scheduled to arrive at Santa Anita Friday from his Los Alamitos base. “His neck is thicker and he’s much sounder.
“The time off has helped him recover from minor issues he had with his body. He worked good last Sunday (seven furlongs in 1:25.40 at Los Alamitos). I guess without blinkers he’s not an excellent work horse, but even with small blinkers, you have to be careful because he will go a little fast.
“He didn’t work in blinkers last Sunday but he’ll have them on Saturday, and he races with them on.”
Espinoza, meanwhile, has enjoyed if not thrived on his wild ride the past two years, thrusting the sport into the mainstream with appearances on shows like Dancing with the Stars, Good Morning America, Jimmy Fallon and Letterman. No reasonable appearance or interview request, it seems, was refused, including first-pitch opportunities at venues such as Angel Stadium, Dodger Stadium and Yankee Stadium (where, in an unprecedented gesture, he was assigned the hallowed #3, in honor of his Triple Crown sweep).
“It’s been more than a dream, especially this year,” Espinoza said. “Last year I was very close to winning the Triple Crown. What were the odds that I would be in an even better position this year?
“It was great in 2014, but 2015 was unforgettable. It was special. I would never even dream that I’d have a year like this.”
NO SECRET FOR GLATT’S PLANS IN MIDNIGHT LUTE
Raised a Secret, a consistent California-bred son of Songandaprayer, tackles tougher company in Saturday’s Grade III Midnight Lute Stakes, but, best case scenario, trainer Mark Glatt hopes the six-year-old horse owned by Rodney Orr performs well and goes on to the $150,000 Donald Valpredo California Cup Sprint for California-breds at six furlongs on Jan. 30.
“He’s coming into this race real well,” Glatt said, “and he needs to have a race before the Cal-bred stakes. There’s a lack of opportunity for him right now and the Midnight Lute has a small field, so we’re going.
“Obviously, he’ll be facing better company in this race than what he as been facing, but he’s pretty consistent and at the very least, he can pick up a nice paycheck and we’ll keep him sharp and tight for the Cal-bred stake and that’s kind of our goal.
“But who knows? Maybe he’ll jump up and win Saturday.”
The Midnight Lute: Seattle Serenade, Mike Smith, 6-1; San Onofre, Alex Solis, 7-2; Distinctiv Passion, Edwin Maldonado, 3-1; Pulling G’s, Victor Espinoza, 5-1; Raised a Secret, Fernando Perez, 12-1; All Run, Mario Gutierrez, 5-2; and Salutos Amigos, Martin Garcia, 3-1.
Salutos Amigos blew out three furlongs for trainer David Jacobson Thursday in 37.80, while San Onofre went the same distance in the same time for Karen Headley.
FOREVER DARLING FRESH FOR BALTAS IN SANTA YNEZ
Whatever chance maiden winner Forever Darling had at 55-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last out on Oct. 30 went by the boards when she bobbled at the start, eventually winding up eighth by 17 ¼ lengths behind undefeated Eclipse champion-in-waiting Songbird.
Trainer Richard Baltas has the daughter of Congrats in a considerably more realistic spot in Saturday’s Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes for three-year-old fillies at 6 ½ furlongs.
“We freshened her up after the Breeders’ Cup,” said Baltas, who has enjoyed a solid 2015 with 73 victories and is off to a rousing Winter Meet start at Santa Anita with three victories from his first four runners.
“We finished up strong and we’re looking forward to a big future,” Baltas said.
The Santa Ynez field: My Dynamo, Fernando Perez, 8-1; Rockantharos, Edwin Maldonado, 20-1; Decked Out, Kent Desormeaux, 6-1; Treasuring, Victor Espinoza, 5-1; One Last Shot, Mike Smith, 8-1; Code Warrior, Anne Sanguinetti, 7-2; Pretty N Cool, Martin Garcia, 5-2; and Forever Darling, Rafael Bejarano, 7-2.
DISTANCE SUITS BAL A BALI IN SAN GABRIEL
Bal a Bali tries nine furlongs on turf for the first time in the United States in Saturday’s Grade II San Gabriel Stakes, but Richard Mandella says it should suit the Brazilian-bred horse owned by Fox Hills Farms, Inc. or Sienna Farms, LLC.
“He’s won at a mile and a half (in Brazil on March 16, 2014), so I don’t think that’s a problem,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “He was finishing his best at the end of his last race (second in the Grade II Seabiscuit at 1 1/16 miles on Del Mar’s grass course Nov. 27).
“In that race, we were wishing it was a mile and an eighth, so I don’t see a problem with the San Gabriel distance. We just hope he runs his best race again, which I think he will.”
Bal a Bali, who turns seven tomorrow, has two wins from five starts in the U.S., including the Grade III American at one mile on grass at Santa Anita on May 9, 2015, in his U.S. debut.
The field: Flamboyant, Brice Blanc, 20-1; Big John B, Rafael Bejarano, 7-2; Poshky, Victor Espinoza, 12-1; Texas Ryno, James Graham, 10-1; Power Red, Mario Gutierrez, 12-1; Class Leader, Kent Desormeaux, 20-1; Bal a Bali, Flavien Prat, 7-2; Obviously, Joe Talamo, 3-1; Wanstead Gardens, Gary Stevens, 20-1; Chiropractor, Corey Nakatani, 4-1; Macro Access, Martin Garcia, 20-1; and also-eligibles Kenjisstorm, Edwin Maldonado,
50-1; Southern Freedom, Mike Smith, 15-1; and Quick Casablanca, Tyler Baze, 20-1.
VANITY LONG-RANGE GOAL FOR CHAMPION BEHOLDER
Richard Mandella has the Grade I Vanity Stakes at one mile on June 4 as a long-range goal for two-time Eclipse Award champion Beholder.
“She’s still at Peacefield Farm in Temecula, but we expect her back at Santa Anita somewhere towards the first or second week of January,” Mandella said of the daughter of Henny Hughes, who missed the Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Oct. 30 due to a fever.
Owned by the Spendthrift Farm of B. Wayne Hughes, Beholder has won 11 of 12 starts at Santa Anita.
FINISH LINES: Unusual Heat turns 26 tomorrow, but he’s still going strong at Harris Farms in Coalinga. The venerable and valuable stallion has a full book, which closed with 40 mares at $20,000 a service, according to trainer Barry Abrams, a member of the breeding syndicate. “Lakerville, Unusual Heat’s fastest son, stands right next to him,” Abrams said. “He was bred to 40 mares last year and we hope to have 60 or 70 for him in 2016. His service right now is complimentary as he establishes himself in the market.” . . . Tomorrow, New Year’s Day, Santa Anita offers another of its popular Dollar Days, with draft beer, hot dogs and sodas available for a buck apiece.