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FOLLOWING BUENA VISTA SCRATCH, MILLIONAIRE EVENING JEWEL FINDS AN INVITING SPOT IN VALENTINE DANCER ON SATURDAY AS CO-HIGH WEIGHT UNZIP ME TRIES ROUTE FOR FIRST TIME
ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 23, 2011) – Millionaire 4-year-old filly Evening Jewel might have been aiming for $30,000 more in winning purse money when scratched from last Monday’s Grade II Buena Vista Handicap, but the 2010 California-bred Horse of the Year appears to have landed in an appealing enough spot.
The daughter of Northern Afleet, trained by Jim Cassidy for Marilyn and Tom Braly, figures to be a solid favorite when matched against 10 state-breds in Saturday’s $100,000 Valentine Dancer Handicap over one mile on turf at Santa Anita.
She will carry 125 pounds, but so will Unzip Me, a crack sprinter who will be making her first start at a distance beyond 6 ½ furlongs. The 5-year-old daughter of City Zip has four Grade III wins among her 17 victories, but faces a challenge when trying two turns for the first time.
“We had a lot going against us,” Cassidy said in explaining the Buena Vista scratch. He cited high weight, the disadvantageous outside post, No. 11, at the mile distance, the rails set at 15 feet and soft turf resulting from recent rain. Perhaps not so apparent prior to the Buena Vista was the smasher that comebacking Cozi Rosie would run in winning by 1 ¼ lengths.
“There was certainly a sense of relief when I saw Evening Jewel scratch out of the race,” said Mike Smith, who rode the winner. “She’s very talented and has tactical speed. She (Evening Jewel) would have been making the first run, and I would have had to try and run her down.” Smith would add about Cozi Rosie, “She ran dynamite. I’m telling you, she has an abundance of talent.”
The depth of talent belonging to Evening Jewel is well-established: Two Grade I victories to go along with a pair of Grade I losses to last year’s 3-year-old filly champion Blind Luck in both the Kentucky Oaks and Santa Anita’s Las Virgenes Stakes. Her ultra consistent record of 7-5-2 in 16 races has accounted for $1,182,943 in earnings. Other than Unzip Me, Evening Jewel is the only graded stakes winner in Saturday’s field. Even if the turf comes up soft, Cassidy says she will run anyway while being in need of a race. Regular rider Victor Espinoza will be in the saddle.
Unzip Me has been on a roll as a sprinter. She has reached the wire first in 8 of her last 10 starts. All the races were on turf ranging in distances from five to 6 ½ furlongs. Rafael Bejarano has the mount atop the chestnut mare trained by Marty Jones for Harris Farms and partners. Unzip Me shows earnings of $643,513 from a record of 10-2-3 in 17 races.
Ultra Blend, a 5-year-old Richly Blended mare trained by Art Sherman for Nels Erickson, is seldom far away at the wire and has been turning in some of her best performances lately. She was assigned 123 pounds. After winning Oak Tree’s California Cup Matron at Hollywood Park in October, she returned to take the Cat’s Cradle by 3 ¼ lengths against statebreds.
In her last start, the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff over dirt on Jan. 29 at Santa Anita, Ultra Blend lost to victorious Evening Jewel by just one-half length while finishing third. Joel Rosario rides the bay mare with a record of 7-4-5 in 18 starts for earnings of $400,646. Ultra Blend will be seeking her first victory on turf in five career starts.
The complete field for the Valentine Dancer Handicap, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Party With Brando, Chantal Sutherland, 113; Evening Jewel, Victor Espinoza, 125; Camille C, Alonso Quinonez, 115; Warren’s Got Game, Patrick Valenzuela, 113; Bran Jammas, Garrett Gomez, 116; Antares World, Martin Garcia, 118; Unzip Me, Rafael Bejarano, 125; Catsalot, Brice Blanc, 115; La Nez, Martin Pedroza, 118; Ultra Blend, Joel Rosario, 123, and Saanneen, Corey Nakatani, 113.
The Valentine Dancer is carded as the seventh race on a nine-race program with first post at 12:30 p.m.