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EINSTEIN OUTSMARTS 'EM IN SANTA ANITA HANDICAP, PITTS-BLASI FIRST WOMAN TO TRAIN BIG 'CAP WINNER
ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) _ Dirt, grass, a rug, none of that seems relative to Einstein's racing ability.
Running for the first time on a synthetic surface, the Brazilian-bred whiz turned in a virtually picture-perfect performance to win Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap.
"He's a good horse on the turf. He's a good horse on the dirt. He's a good horse on anything," jockey Julien Leparoux said. "We didn't really know about this track, but we were pretty sure he was going to handle it.
"And he did."
Helen Pitts-Blasi, Einstein's trainer, said, "He rode him beautifully. It's an unbelievable feeling, just means the world to me. Einstein was very comfortable with this track from the time he got here."
The 7-year-old son of 1985 Kentucky Derby champion Spend a Buck held off Champs Elysees down the stretch to win by one length. Pacesetter Matto Mondo finished third, another neck behind.
Einstein, who had won on both dirt and grass in his 23 previous races, carried high weight of 121 pounds and covered the 1¼ miles in 2:01.93.
Late in the race, Blue Exit, a 4-year-old who had won four of nine career starts, broke down in the final turn and track officials said the horse had to be euthanized. Rider Robby Albarado was not injured.
Earlier on the Santa Anita card, 2008 2-year-old filly of the year Stardom Bound took the $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks in a photo finish for her fifth consecutive win; and Gio Ponti nipped Ventura, a mare running against the males, in the $300,000 Kilroe Mile.
With probable favorite Colonel John scratched from the Big 'Cap,' Einstein went off at 5-1 in the wide-open, 13-horse field. The winner paid $12, $7 and $4.60. Champs Elysees returned $19.40 and $11.60, and Matto Mondo paid $5.20.
Leparoux had Einstein relaxed and in good position in the early going, keeping him third or fourth behind the front-running Matto Mondo before urging him into the lead early in the stretch.
Striding easily, Einstein gamely held off Champs Elyees.
"The winner had a real good trip," said Jose Valdivia Jr., who rode Champs Elysees. "Even though I had a great trip, I think if the pace had been a little hotter, we would have had a better chance at the end.
"But take nothing away from the winner _ his first time running on this stuff."
Einstein has won nine times, with three of his six turf victories in Grade I events. But he showed his versatility last year on the dirt at Churchill Downs when he won the Grade II Clark Handicap and finished second to two-time horse of the year Curlin in the Stephen Foster Handicap.
Stardom Bound, considered a possible contender for both the Santa Anita Derby and the Kentucky Derby, survived a rough trip and won a four-horse photo finish. Stardom Bound inched ahead of 35-1 longshot Third Dawn on her final jump to earn her fifth consecutive Grade I victory.
She finished a nose in front, with Third Dawn a nose ahead of Hooh Why, who in turn was a neck in front of Nan.
Stardom Bound broke last in the nine-horse field, began moving up late in the backstretch, swung six-wide turning for home and came off-stride briefly when Hooh Why drifted out slightly in mid stretch.
The time for the 1 1-16-mile test for 3-year-old fillies was 1:43.62. All carried 122 pounds.
"It seemed like she got lost out there early," rider Mike Smith said. "We had a terrible trip. When I moved out with her turning for home, everybody else went out at the same time and we got caught really wide.
"At the wire, though, she put her ears up. Maybe this is the kind of race she needed."
Part owner Mike Iavarone, asked if the Santa Anita Derby might be next for Stardom Bound, said, "I think she worked pretty hard today against the girls. She's going to have to really prove herself to handle horses like Pioneerof the Nile.
"If they (the horse's other connections) want to go forward, I'm willing to go forward."
The gray filly's trainer, Bobby Frankel, thought she was ahead at the wire, but admitted to a very nervous few moments, saying, "I'm just lucky my heart's strong."
Sent off at 2-5, Stardom Bound paid $2.80, $2.40 and $2.10. Third Dawn returned $12.40 and $7.20 and the show payoff on Hooh Why was $5.
Gio Ponti, ridden by Ramon Dominguez, was clocked in 1:33.65 for the one mile on the grass and finished a nose in front of Ventura. Gio Ponti paid $12.80, $5.40 and $3.60. Favorite Ventura paid $3 and $2.60, and the show payoff on Dixie Chatter was $4.40.
Ken Peters, AP-LA Sports Editor