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COLONEL JOHN IS 9-2 PICK IN DEEP, DIVERSE SANTA ANITA HANDICAP; NINE FILLIES SET TO OPPOSE SENSATIONAL STARDOM BOUND IN OAKS
ARCADIA, Calif. (March 4, 2009) – While Saturday’s Grade I, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks seems a solitary audition for dynamic 3-year-old filly Stardom Bound’s projected date with the boys in next month’s Santa Anita Derby, the 72nd running of the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap is plainly bursting with diversity and depth.
Fourteen horses, bred in five different countries, were entered in historic Santa Anita’s signature event at 1 ¼ miles. The cast includes eight Grade or Group I winners who are coming out of eight different graded stakes raced from coast-to-coast over surfaces ranging from grass to dirt to synthetics.
Their jockeys include the top seven in the country according to purse earnings, a roster, which at the moment, fails to include two-time Eclipse Award winner John Velazquez, who will become the 60th winner of the prestigious Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award on Sunday.
The horses have been so closely adjudged in talent that a committee assigning weights rated ten of the entrants within five pounds of one another. Eastern invader Einstein, a Brazilian-bred turf specialist with earnings of over $1.6 million, was accorded the high of 121 pounds.
Santa Anita oddsmaker Jeff Tufts views this Big ‘Cap as being so densely competitive that his morning line favorite is Colonel John at 9-2 with four others listed no higher than 6-1.
The complete field for the Santa Anita Handicap, with jockeys, weights and morning line odds in post position order: Matto Mondo, Rafael Bejarano, 116, 6-1; Cowboy Cal, John Velazquez, 120, 5-1; Heroi Do Bafra, Michael Baze, 111, 30-1; Monba, Edgar Prado, 114, 15-1; Colonel John, Garrett Gomez, 119, 9-2; Magnum, Joel Rosario, 116, 12-1; Blue Exit, Robby Albarado, 115, 12-1; Einstein, Julien Leparoux, 121, 6-1; Dansant, Tyler Baze, 116, 20-1; Cause, Jon Court, 110, 30-1; Court Vision, Ramon Dominguez, 119, 6-1; Zambezi Sun, Victor Espinoza, 116, 12-1; Champs Elysees, Jose Valdivia, Jr., 118, 12-1, and Stream Cat, Alex Solis, 114, 20-1.
Tiago, who would have been the richest runner in the field with earnings of $2.3 million, was not entered at the last minute after trainer John Shirreffs’ wife and stable manager, Dottie, reported that the third-place finisher in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Classic had “backed off his feed” in recent days and was not deemed to be 100 percent.
The Santa Anita Handicap will be one of three Grade I stakes, including the Santa Anita Oaks and Frank E. Kilroe Mile, on an 11-race program with first post set for 12 noon. The entire card will be televised by HRTV with the Big ’Cap slated as the tenth race. Its projected post is 4:37 p.m.
Nine 3-year-old fillies were named to oppose Stardom Bound, the 2008 champion 2-year-old filly who will be seeking her fifth straight Grade I victory in the 70th running of the mile-and-one-sixteenth Oaks. Purchased for $5.7 million following her victory in last October’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita, Michael Ivarone, who heads the IEAH partnership, promptly put the Santa Anita Derby and a date with the boys, on the new ownership group’s agenda.
Provided she takes care of business as expected under jockey Mike Smith on Saturday, the attention of the exciting gray filly -- who has already earned $1.6 million -- will be turned to the Santa Anita Derby and a possible encounter with Pioneerof the Nile and The Pamplemousse on April 4. Winning Colors, the last filly to have won the Kentucky Derby in 1988, used Santa Anita’s premier race for 3-year-olds as the springboard.
The complete field for the Santa Anita Oaks, with jockeys in post position order (all entrants carry 122 pounds): Stardom Bound, Mike Smith; Burg Berg, Tyler Baze; Miss Silver Brook, Solis; Hooh Why, Albarado; Stormy Slew, Velazquez; Nan, Corey Nakatani; Will O Way, Russell Baze; Beltene, Rosario; Third Dawn, Bejarano, and Acronym, David Flores.
Bobby Frankel, who trains Stardom Bound, will send 5-year-old mare Ventura against males when facing eleven opponents in Saturday’s 50th running of the Frank E. Kilroe Mile on grass. Juddmonte Farms’ homebred daughter of Chester House twice defeated males in England. With national riding leader Garrett Gomez aboard, Ventura is coming off wins in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and Santa Anita’s Grade I Santa Monica Handicap.
After earning $1.5 million from a record of 8-5-1 in 15 starts, Ventura was weighted at 118 pounds, one less than high weight Artiste Royal, a multiple Grade I winner for trainer Neil Drysdale and winner of the recent Grade II San Marcos Handicap at 1 ¼ miles on turf.
The complete field for the Frank E. Kilroe Mile, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Ventura, Gomez, 118; Mast Track, Leparoux, 117; Monterey Jazz, no rider, 116; Hewitts, Flores, 114; Wise River, Albarado, 116; Artiste Royal, Bejarano, 119; Dixie Chatter, Tyler Baze, 115; Mr Napper Tandy, Rosario, 113; Global Hunter, Valdivia, 116; Becrux, Prado, 115; Gio Ponti, Dominguez, 118, and Victory Pete, Smith, 113.
At the age of 7, Big ’Cap top-weight Einstein will be making his West Coast debut and his first start over a synthetic surface when testing Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride footing. Trainer Helen Pitts-Blassi thinks the Spend a Buck bay’s fondness for turf will translate well to Pro-Ride.
Julien Leparoux rides the winner of three Grade I events on turf among his nine wins in 23 career starts for earnings of $1,678,020. Leparoux was aboard when Einstein took the Grade II Clark Handicap on dirt at Churchill Downs last November and when he ran second to Horse of the Year Curlin in the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs last June. A versatile runner, Einstein likes to track the early pace, but he has won from far back and while going wire-to-wire.
Cowboy Cal, the second high-weight at 120 pounds, will be seeking his third straight graded stakes win after capturing a pair of Grade II stakes at Santa Anita, the San Pasqual Handicap and the Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds. Trained by Todd Pletcher for owners and breeders Robert and Janice McNair, Cowboy Cal has posted a 6-3-0 record in 11 starts for earnings of $747,708. Velazquez rides.
Lukewarm morning line choice Colonel John, who will have Gomez aboard at 119 pounds, won the Grade III Sham Stakes and Grade I Santa Anita Derby over the track as a 3-year-old last year. He also captured Saratoga’s Grade I Travers Stakes by a nose with Gomez in the saddle.
Owned and bred by WinStar Stable, the 4-year-old son of two-time Horse of the Year Tiznow prepped for the Big ’Cap by closing for fourth in the Grade I Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs on opening day, Dec. 26, of the current Santa Anita meet. He has been working swiftly for trainer Eoin Harty. Colonel John’s earnings have reached $1,483,830 from a 5-2-1 mark in 11 starts.
Court Vision, assigned 119 pounds, won the Grade I Hollywood Derby last November at Hollywood Park. The 4-year-old Gulch colt, trained by Bill Mott for IEAH Stables and WinStar Farm, will have Ramon Dominguez in the saddle as he attempts to build on earnings of $1,036,400 from a 5-2-3 log in 13 races.
Frankel sends out a pair of entrants, Champs Elysees and Zambezi Sun, who have done their best running on turf. The former, who has earned $1,354,761 for Juddmonte Farms, has raced on synthetics but three times in a 22-race career with his best showing a third-place finish behind Heatseeker and Go Between in last year’s Santa Anita Handicap. Jose Valdivia Jr., who rode the 6-year-old British-bred son of Danehill when victorious in the Grade I Hollywood Turf Cup on Dec. 6, will be back aboard while weighted at 118 pounds.
Zambezi Sun, a Group I winner on turf in France, showed little in his United Stakes debut when finishing sixth as the odds-on favorite in the Grade II San Luis Obispo Handicap at 1 ½ miles on turf on Feb. 22. The 5-year-old, who has raced exclusively on grass, will be ridden by Victor Espinoza in his second start following a five-month layoff. Zambezi Sun was weighted at 116 pounds.
When 8-year-old Magnum won the San Antonio Handicap at odds of 16-1 after sitting just off the dawdling pace, it was his first victory in nine starts and his second as a gelding, which brought long-awaited relief from the discomfort of an undescended testicle. The Argentine-bred, trained by Darrell Vienna for Herrick Racing, carries 116 pounds. Joel Rosario has the mount.
Also weighted at 116 pounds were Matto Mondo, a Chilean-bred import who has won his last two starts including the Grade III Thunder Road Handicap for trainer Richard Mandella, and British-import Dansant, who won 5 of 8 starts over synthetics in England. Rafael Bejarano rides Matto Mondo while Tyler Baze has the assignment on the newcomer from England.
A multiple Grade I winner in his native Chile, Matto Mondo has blossomed dramatically in his last two starts at Santa Anita. “He just didn’t speak English when he got here,” Mandella wryly explained. “It took him awhile to get the language down.” Rafael Bejarano, who is challenging Gomez in Santa Anita’s riders’ race, assumes the mount atop Matto Mondo.
In the Oaks, the most interesting of Stardom Bound’s competitors seems to be undefeated Beltene, a winner of her first three starts including the Sunshine Million Oaks on Jan. 24. Jack Carava, who trains La Canada Stable’s $30,000 sales purchase, is realistic about going up against Stardom Bound with his California-bred daughter of Unusual Heat. “If she gets Grade I stakes-placed, it would make her worth more,” he said.
Gomez seems little concerned about millionaire mare Ventura’s task in the Kilroe Mile. “I have no worries,” he told the Daily Racing Form. “She’s really gotten stronger and more athletic, and she’s got a great turn of foot. I fell in love with her when she first got here.”
Since her arrival in the U.S. from England early last year, Gomez has been in the irons for each of Ventura’s eight starts which include five victories, two seconds and a third. She was victorious in Belmont Park’s Grade I Just a Game Stakes at one mile on turf last June.
Gomez, aboard Artiste Royal for his win in the San Marcos, will be replaced in the Kilroe by Rafael Bejarano on Saturday. Bejarano rode the 8-year-old Irish-bred ridgling to a second-place finish at 6-1 odds behind Ever a Friend in last year’s Kilroe. Trained by Neil Drysdale for David and Jill Heerensperger, Artiste Royal has earned $871,790 from his record of 7-8-5 in 28 career starts.
Mast Track, owned and trained by Frankel, lends legitimate depth to the Kilroe, as he returns to turf after finishing three lengths in back of victorious Albertus Maximus in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on Oct. 25. The wire-to-wire winner of last year’s Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup has won 3 of 7 starts on grass. Leparoux will be aboard the 5-year-old who has earned $759,622 from an overall record of 5-2-1 in 13 starts.
The Kilroe will be contested as the eighth race on the program with the Oaks going as the seventh.