News and Notes Feb. 7 – by Rod Young Turfdom
- The rain that was forecast for last week never really showed up and although the skies appeared threatening most of the weekend, the moisture never made it to ground level. The main track was fast and the turf course remained firm and both surfaces played “fair” for the most part. This week there is a 90% chance of rain on Friday during the day, so those turf races are vulnerable, especially the first, which is down the hill. However, the weekend says sunny skies and warm temps. There are no c/o into Thursday as the pick six was hit Sunday by a single ticket and paid out over a $100 grand.
- For those that witnessed the Las Virgenes stakes on Sunday, they got a sneak preview of a future champion, as Unique Bella was the easiest of winners by 9 open lengths vs. an Eclipse award winner from last year. This was her first time going two turns and not only did she show she could handle the distance, she showed she could rate off the pace as well. She has won her last 3 races by a combined 27 lengths and she looks every bit as good as Songbird did at this point in her career. Hollendorfer trains them both and will probably target the Santa Anita Oaks first, then the Kentucky Oaks, the first Friday in May, with the roan daughter of the great sire, Tapit. In other stakes action Saturday, Hoppertunity came from dead last and got up to win the San Antonio at a mile and a sixteenth on the main track and paid $7.00 under Flavian Prat. This race was supposed to be at 9 furlongs, not 8.5, but the racing office made a mistake and had to run it at the shorter distance. Hoppertunity is a true mile and a quarter horse so the shorter distance made a huge difference to him. But when a rider is as hot as Prat is right now, nothing is an issue. He won 4 in a row Saturday including the finale, the San Marcos stakes with Isotherm, and was not on the best horse in any of the 4 races. Hoppertunity should be off to Dubai now for the Classic which is at 10 furlongs where he was third to Chrome last year. Of course if Baffert sends Arrogate over, this winner of over $4 million is running for second. They also ran a Derby prep on Saturday called the Robert Lewis, named for one of the great California owners (Silver Charm), and John Sherriff’s Royal Mo won it easily under Espinoza. This one has the breeding to be a Derby contender and Victor knows something about winning derbies. American Pharoah and California Chrome are gone to the breeding shed, but Sherriffs has two good sophomores (Gormley, Royal Mo) and Espinoza rides them both. The happy Mexican (as he calls himself) keeps landing on his feet. Must have a pretty good agent. The other stakes went to the streaking Joe Bay, who took down the Grade 2 Palos Verdes under a heady ride by Desormeaux, who is riding very well at the present. He didn’t beat much in here and only four went to the post, but he did it the right way. He is also off to Dubai for his next start for hot trainer Peter Miller, who has been on a roll for about six months now.
- There are two good Grade 2 stakes lined up for Saturday and the weather should be good. Baffert’s Vale Dori, who has won two Grade twos in a row, heads the field for the Santa Maria at a mile and a sixteenth on the main track. She will face six or seven others, but none are in Dori’s class right now. Then the Grade 2 Arcadia Handicap has a really good field headed up by What a View, Ring Weekend, and Bolo. Conquest Enforcer, who was so impressive winning on opening day is probably a “single” for the D’Amato barn which is heating up. This one is on our HTW list and looks like a future star on this circuit. Then on Sunday, some good 3 year olds square off in the Grade 2 San Vicente at 7 furlongs on the main track. Battle of Midway (Dorf/Smith), Iliad (Baffert/Bejarano) and Big Hit with Santiago Gonzlez head the field. Also on Sunday they have a restricted stakes for 3 year old fillies coming down the hill called the Sweet Life stakes, which should have a full field.
As mentioned above, Prat is hot right now and he has taken control of the jockey standings and opened up 8 lengths on Tyler Baze 29 to 21. Desormeaux is third with 16 and Bejarano, who many consider the best rider on the circuit, remains in a slump and is 4th with 15 wins. Bejarano is still getting good mounts but he is not delivering, especially on the grass where he has been so good in the past.