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STUNNERS AT SANTA ANITA: PREMIER PEGASUS WINS GRADE II SAN FELIPE BY A RECORD 7 ¾ LENGTHS; MISS MATCH TAKES GRADE I SANTA MARGARITA AT RECORD ODDS OF 45-1
ARCADIA, Calif. (March 12, 2011) – Premier Pegasus, a son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, burst into 2011 Derby prominence on Saturday at Santa Anita when taking the Grade II, $250,000 San Felipe Stakes by 7 ¾ lengths, the most decisive victory in the 74-year history of the final stepping-stone to the April 9 Santa Anita Derby.
Two races earlier on a stunning day at Santa Anita, 45-1 shot Miss Match edged odds-on favorite Switch by a head in the Grade I, $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational to generate the largest win payoff ($92.40) in the 74-year history of the race that is meant to determine the meet’s champion older filly or mare.
If Miss Match had been flying under the radar, consider 68-year-old Myung Kwon Cho. He is the owner, trainer and breeder of Premier Pegasus. And when he stepped into the San Felipe winner’s circle, jockey Alonso Quinonez slammed the door on a 72-race losing streak.
Sent off at odds of 7-1 in the field of 10, Premier Pegasus covered the San Felipe distance of 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.23 while being geared down by Quinonez. The winning margin bettered the previous event high of 6 ½ lengths when Consolidator defeated Giacomo, who two months later would become the 2005 Kentucky Derby upsetter.
“Next stop,” said Cho, “the Santa Anita Derby.” Four of the last 10 winners of the San Felipe had gone on to add Santa Anita’s premier competition for 3-year-olds, a Grade I offering a $1 million purse. Included were Sidney’s Candy last year and Pioneerof the Nile the year before.
Jaycito, the 2-1 favorite, closed strongly from last to take second in Saturday’s San Felipe, but he clearly was no match for the winner. Bench Points finished third, another 1 3/4 lengths back. Albergatti and Runflatout, two highly impressive maiden winners who were stretching out for the first time, weren’t up to the task. Albergatti, at 6-1, finished ninth. Runflatout, the 5-2 second choice, ran last.
Premier Pegasus also was racing around two turns for the first time, but he had some foundation after beginning his career late last year with three successive wins including the Grade III Hollywood Prevue at seven furlongs. He returned following a freshening in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Vicente at seven furlongs on Feb. 20, but could do no better than third behind The Factor and Sway Away.
On Saturday, Cho removed the blinkers his colt had worn in his first four starts, each with Quinonez aboard. “We took the blinkers off because we were thinking it would make him relax a little bit more,” said Cho. “We didn’t want him to sprint out with all those speed horses. He’s a smart horse, so we knew that he’d be ready to run without blinkers.”
“The horses were flying on the lead during the first part of the race,” Quinonez said, “and I knew they were going to come back to the field. I was just hoping to make a move at the right time, and he did.
“He waited for me until I asked him. At the three-eighths pole, he switched leads and grabbed the bridle. I didn’t hold his intentions back. I just let him go. He knew it was time to go because he’s a very special horse.”
With the winning purse of $150,000, the earnings of Premier Pegasus grew to $293,400. If he is to be victorious in the Santa Anita Derby following the San Felipe, Cho would become eligible for an enormous payoff, the Preakness 5.5 bonus. A sweep of the three races concluded by the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Racecourse on May 21 rewards the winning owner with $5 million and the winning trainer with $500,000. The connections – or connection -- of Premier Pegasus would require a single check.
Cho has operated a small, but often successful stable in Southern California for over two decades. He saddled Street Hero to win Oak Tree’s Grade I Norfolk Stakes in 2008. He is assisted by Maria Ayala.
As the San Felipe’s fourth choice, Premier Pegasus rewarded backers with returns of $16.60, $7.20 and $5. Jaycito paid $4.60 and $3.60. The show price on Bench Points was $5.40.
Not only did Miss Match account for the biggest upset in Santa Margarita history, the 6-year-old mare notched her first graded stakes victory in the United States and her only graded win since posting a 9-1 upset in the Group I Argentine Oaks on Nov. 15, 2008.
The mile-and-one-eighth Santa Margarita marked her first start at Santa Anita, but it was not the first time she had been teamed with Garrett Gomez. He had ridden Miss Match to victory in an optional claimer at Saratoga last August.
Gomez, four-time national riding leader in terms of earnings, craftily rode the 6-year-old mare while winning his third Santa Margarita in four years. The winning time of 1:47.33 was just one-fifth of a second off the stakes record set by Lady’s Secret in 1986, the year that great mare was named Horse of the Year.
Switch, the 9-10 favorite who was seeking her third Grade I triumph at the meet, seemed to have the event within her grasp turning for home. Under Joel Rosario’s direction, Switch bid three wide on the far turn to take the lead from pace-setter Always a Princess. The favorite kicked clear in mid-stretch. Meanwhile, Gomez was winding Miss Match through traffic.
The Argentine-bred, who had dropped back to fifth in the field of six after pressing the early pace while running third, burst between horses in midstretch before angling out to nail the favorite at the wire. Vision in Gold finished third, one-half length behind Switch.
Always a Princess, co-second choice with fourth-place finisher St Trinians at odds of 5-2, took a bad step at the eighth pole when tiring and was pulled up. “She’ll be alright,” said her trainer, Bob Baffert.
“She had placed herself well and was traveling really good,” Gomez said of the winner. “I just sat there and let those other horses make a run. I knew my mare would stay. I just didn’t know if I could get her accelerated enough to pick her back up.
“She wasn’t traveling all that great in the middle of the turn. I just kept waiting on her to give her a chance to reestablish the way she was training and start traveling better.
“When I first got to the quarter-pole, I asked her to pick it up and she did a little bit at a time. As I moved her out and decided to move back in, it was like a whole new horse just jumped right in the bridle. She had this win attitude where she knew what she wanted, and she went after it.”
The winning mutuels across the board were $92.40, $14.60 and $6. Switch paid $2.60 and $2.40. The show price on Vision in Gold, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, was $3.60. The largest win payoff in Santa Margarita history previously had been $66.60 paid by Toda Una Dama in 1998.
The Invitational event was Miss Match’s second start for trainer Neil Drysdale after being conditioned in the east by Michael Matz. “We were hoping they’d go fast enough up front and she would come running,” Drysdale said. “That’s her style, so we weren’t going to change it.”
The winning purse of $180,000 elevated the career earnings of the bay mare to $551,614 for owner Matthew Cloros, who races as Cloros Bloodstock and who resides in Sydney, Australia.
The connections of Switch were not displeased with the favorite’s effort. “We had a good trip,” said Rosario. “She just got a little tired in the lane. I’m not disappointed. It’s her first time at a mile-and-an-eighth, and she gave me everything she had.”
There will be a Pick Six carryover of $134,092 when racing continues on Sunday with a nine-race program that commences at 12:30 p.m.