Rendezvous makes his first start on synthetic in almost a year when he runs in Saturday’s Grade II $150,000 San Fernando Stakes for 4-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.

The son of 1998 Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop is coming off five straight turf races, his most recent last Nov. 7, when he finished eighth in the Oak Tree Derby.

“He was never off the board on the grass until he ran twice at Santa Anita, and he didn’t hit the board in either one,” said Dan Ward, assistant to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. “Either he didn’t like this course, or he was at the end of a tough summer. He traveled from the Triple Crown trail and then ran three races at Del Mar. Maybe we needed to stop on him and freshen him up.

“But, he’s two for three with one third on synthetic (on Golden Gate’s Tapeta), and the third was against Chocolate Candy.”

The field for the San Fernando, second leg of the Strub series: Smart Bid, Mike Smith; Viscount, Garrett Gomez; Rendezvous, Rafael Bejarano; Papa Clem, Tyler Baze; Mr. Hot Stuff, Joe Talamo; Mythical Power, Joel Rosario; Gallant Son, Alex Solis; and Quindici Man, Victor Espinoza.


Domonation stretches out to one mile in Saturday’s Grade III $100,000 San Rafael Stakes. Trainer John Sadler is encouraged by the late kick the gray son of Maria’s Mon has displayed in his four previous races, all sprints.

“I think he’s going to like it,” Sadler said. “He’s a good finisher in all his races. We’re looking forward to it. I got a nice seven-furlong work in him, so it’s time to find out.”

The field for the San Rafael, which goes as race No. 3 on a nine-race card: Cardiff Giant, Victor Espinoza; Domonation, Joel Rosario; Conveyance, Garrett Gomez; Lucky Rave, Alex Solis; and Via Verde, Rafael Bejarano.


East Coast-based trainer Ken McPeek is testing the waters at Santa Anita this winter with a string of stakes-caliber horses, two of which are scheduled to run in Sunday’s Grade II $150,000 El Encino Stakes for 4-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles.

One is Best Lass, a Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Werblin, who is a stakes winner at Prairie Meadows, and has a 4-3-0 record from 10 starts with earnings of $165,854.

The other is Dream Empress, a 4-year-old daughter of Bernstein, who was a distant fourth to Rachel Alexandra in the Golden Rod at Churchill Downs in November 2008, and a troubled second to champion Stardom Bound in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita.

“They’re coming up to the race great,” said Jordan Blair, a 29-year-old Lexington, Ky. native, who is supervising the operation for McPeek at Santa Anita, where they have nine horses on hand. “Best Lass had a very sharp breeze last weekend. That was pretty impressive, because she did it without much urging. We tried to slow her down last week and she went in a minute and change (1:00.40). She came out of it good. She’s sharp for this race.

“Dream Empress had a race over the track and that was off a layoff of eight months. She really wasn’t into the race very much until the end. Garrett (Gomez) got into her, and it was nice, but it wasn’t great, but we’re going to put a set of blinkers on for the El Encino to try and keep her more involved in the race. This is the big test. If she can’t handle this kind of company, they’re probably going to retire her and breed her.

“She tailed off at the beginning of 2009, and we gave her a big, long break (April 9 to Dec. 28). It was nothing serious, and since she’s come back, she looks good and she’s training well. If she can get back in form, I think she’ll be competitive.”

The field for the El Encino: Rose Diamond, Joe Talamo, 115; Pretty Unusual, Chantal Sutherland, 119; Will O Way, Alonso Quinonez, 117; Dave’s Revenge, Brice Blanc, 115; Eloquently, David Flores, 115; Gumption, Jose Valdivia Jr., 115; Stardom Bound, Mike Smith, 122; Dream Empress, Tyler Baze, 117; Justwhistledixie, Garrett Gomez,122; Gilded Gem, Victor Espinoza, 115; Spirit Seeker, Joel Rosario, 115; Best Lass, Alex Solis, 117; and Freedom Star, Martin Garcia, 115.

In other El Encino news:

Bill Mott hopes he’s not whistling Dixie with Justwhistledixie. The 4-year-old Dixie Union filly has never run on synthetic, but makes her debut on the artificial surface in the El Encino. She worked five furlongs on Pro-Ride Sunday in 1:01.80.

“It’s a bit of an experiment,” said Mott, who has 12 horses on hand at Santa Anita. “I’ll be flying back and forth from the East Coast for certain races at Santa Anita, but I’ve got a good assistant here in Leana Williford.”


Whispering Hush returns to a seven-furlong race in Saturday’s Grade II $150,000 Santa Ynez Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, and Eric Kruljac is hoping for better luck this time. The chestnut daughter of El Corredor finished a troubled third in the California Cup Juvenile Fillies at seven furlongs last Oct. 3.

“She had a ton of trouble in the race,” Kruljac said. “I mean, monumental trouble. She steadied for way over a quarter of a mile, basically.”

Whispering Hush was a maiden in the Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies, but won next out against non-winners on Oct. 31. She finished third in the Grade III Miesque at one mile on Hollywood Park’s turf course Nov. 29.

Prime competition is expected from Aqueduct invader Franny Freud, winner of a New York-bred stakes by five lengths last out on Nov. 15, and She’s Funomenal, two for two in 6 1/2-furlong events at Hollywood Park.

“That last one was pretty counterfeit,’ Kruljac said, referring to She’s Funomenal’s win against only three rivals in a minor stakes at Hollywood Dec. 13. “That doesn’t mean she might not be something special, but she’s going to have to prove it. She might prove it in here. We’ll see.”

Victor Espinoza has ridden Whispering Hush in four of her five starts, but he rides Seriously for Bob Baffert in the Santa Ynez, so Kruljac has engaged Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. “My filly wasn’t 100 percent last time,” Kruljac said. “Hopefully, it will be different this time.”

Whispering Hush has a 1-1-2 record, with earnings of $69,760 for Wayne Seltzer and his son, Tyler, of Encinitas.

The field for the Santa Ynez, which goes as the fifth race on a nine-race program: Seriously, Espinoza; Franny Freud, Garrett Gomez; Whispering Hush, Smith; Amen Hallelujah, Chantal Sutherland; She’s Funomenal, Joel Rosario; and Switch, Rafael Bejarano.


Horse of the Year 2009 will be announced Monday at the Eclipse Awards dinner in Beverly Hills, but the war of words as to which horse is most deserving, Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta, goes on.

“They’re both very deserving candidates,” said Hall of Fame jockey and HRTV analyst Gary Stevens, who recently took out his trainer’s license. “Unfortunately, there will only be one winner. If I had a vote, I’d vote for Zenyatta. They both did a lot for racing last year, but Zenyatta did something we’ll never see again in our lifetime.”

Added Bob Baffert, who celebrated his 57th birthday yesterday and who conditioned 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given: “I’d like to see Zenyatta win it, the way she ran in the Breeders’ Cup. That race is set up to establish a champion, but they don’t always vote that way. Midnight Lute was much the best when he won the Sprint in 2008 but he didn’t get the championship, so voters don’t always base it on that one race.”

FINISH LINES: Doug O’Neill’s goal for the recently retired Lava Man is to bring him back as a pony. Asked his best description of the rags-to-riches gelding who was claimed for $50,000 and went on to earn more than $5 million, the trainer said: “class and competitor.” . . . Probable for the Grade II $150,000 San Marcos Stakes on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Aggie Engineer, Alex Solis; Dynamic Range, Victor Espinoza; High Court Drama, Michael Baze; Loup Breton, Garrett Gomez; Muhannak, Martin Pedroza; Obrigado, Joel Rosario; Quasicobra, Julien Leparoux; and Ridge Dance, Martin Garcia . . . Misremembered worked five furlongs on Pro-Ride Thursday in 1:00.60 for the Grade II $200,000 Strub Stakes on Feb. 6. “He’s improving,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “He’s getting better and better.” Sir Beaufort Stakes winner The Usual Q.T. worked six furlongs on Pro-Ride Thursday in 1:12.80 under Victor Espinoza. Trainer Jim Cassidy expects to run the son of Unusual Heat, who has won six races in a row--the last four stakes--in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic on Pro-Ride on Jan. 30 . . . Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Desert Code worked four furlongs on Pro-Ride Tuesday in a bullet :46.60. “We’ll get him ready, then find a race for him,” trainer David Hofmans said . . . John Sadler plans February returns for well-regarded 3-year-olds Dave in Dixie and Sidney’s Candy. Dave in Dixie, who rallied from 11th and last to be beaten 2 1/4 lengths in the Grade I Norfolk Stakes, went five furlongs on Pro-Ride Thursday in 1:01. Sidney’s Candy, fourth as the 3-5 favorite after an eventful start on Dec. 30, went four furlongs Wednesday in :49.20 . . . Agent Brian Beach reports that Alex Solis has been selected for the Panamanian Hall of Fame and will be on hand in his native country Feb. 9 for induction ceremonies . . . Tomorrow is the second ‘Free Friday’ at Santa Anita this meet. Patrons will receive free General Admission as well as free box seats, while supplies last. Hot dogs, beers, sodas, popcorn and coffee will be available for $1 . . . All THOROUGHBREDS members will receive a free Santa Anita collectible ice bucket while supplies last on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. First post time Monday is 12:30 p.m. Gates open at 10:30 a.m. Santa Anita will be dark for live racing on Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 19 and 20 . . . Daily Racing Form Chairman and Publisher Steven Crist will be at Santa Anita Saturday to sign his new book and DVD, “Exotic Tickets,” from noon to 1 p.m. The signing will take place at Champions! Gift Shop, located in the East Paddock Gardens . . . Jay Privman, national correspondent for Daily Racing Form, and HRTV’s Jeff Siegel, will be Jack Disney’s guests at Sunday’s Fans’ Forum, 11:15 a.m., in the East Paddock Gardens . . . Entering Thursday’s races, there were 102 contestants alive in ShowVivor.