STABLE NOTES BY MIKE WILLMAN

• RUSSELL BAZE LIKES SMILING TIGER IN SATURDAY’S GR. II PALOS VERDES

• TOP RIDER MARTIN GARCIA DUE BACK AT SANTA ANITA SATURDAY MORNING

• JOURNALIST BILL DWYRE’S ZENYATTA ‘TAKE’ WELL RECEIVED

• PRIVMAN, IKE TO HOST DAILY RACING FORM SEMINAR SATURDAY MORNING

SMILING TIGER PRIMED FOR CAREER EFFORT IN PALOS VERDES ACCORDING TO BAZE

Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze, North America’s all-time leading rider by number of wins, isn’t known for gratuitous hyperbole—which makes his assessment of Saturday’s Grade II, $150,000 Palos Verdes Stakes noteworthy.

“Smiling Tiger ran too good to get beat in the (opening day) Malibu,” said Baze on Friday morning from the jockeys’ room at Golden Gate Fields. “He ran his eyeballs out and there were a couple of coincidences going into that race that didn’t work in our favor. Jeff (Bonde) was forced to miss a work with him and as a result, he didn’t go into the race at his absolute best. When you hook up with a horse like Twirling Candy going seven furlongs, that’s pretty significant and we still only got beat a nose.

“The Palos Verdes is six furlongs and that’s good. Cutting back in distance in distance is going to benefit this horse. I think we have yet to see the best of him, and hopefully, we’ll see it on Saturday. This horse has the potential to be one of the best sprinters in the country.”

Baze, who was the regular rider of such top sprinters as Eclipse champion Lost in the Fog and Bedside Promise, ranks Smiling Tiger, who drew the rail in the Palos Verdes, with the best he’s ever ridden.

“The post isn’t going to bother him. He’s got enough speed to get a position, no matter where he draws.”

The field, in post position order with riders and morning line for the Palos Verdes: Smiling Tiger, Russell Baze, even, 123; Euroears, Mike Smith, 8-1, 118; Ventana, Rafael Bejarano, 4-1, 120; Captain Cherokee, Joe Talamo, 12-1, 118; Gato Go Win, Patrick Valenzuela, 5-1, 118; Hunch, Joel Rosario, 8-1, 118; and Don Tito, Corey Nakatani, 8-1, 118.

TOP RIDER MARTIN GARCIA TO RETURN TO SANTA ANITA SATURDAY MORNING

Agent Jim Pegram reported on Thursday morning that jockey Martin Garcia has his working papers in order and that he will be at Santa Anita on Saturday morning to work horses.

“I’m headed to San Diego right now and I’ll pick him up at about 12:30 this afternoon,” said Pegram. “He’s got his new work visa and he’s been okayed to reenter the country. He had a visa, but it had expired, so it was mandatory that he go back home (south of Mexico City) and reapply. We were able to ride through the Breeders’ Cup, but we’ve been idle 70 days now, since Nov. 8, which was pretty much what we were told by the immigration people at the time.

“He grew up in a small town south of Mexico City and that’s where he’s been. He’s been working out every day and he told me he’s been doing a lot of mountain climbing, so he’ll be ready to ride real soon. I’ll start taking calls tomorrow morning and we should be back in action next week.”

Despite missing most of November and all of December, Garcia ended up ninth in the national standings for money-won, with more that $10 million in purse money.

“This is a good day for me, believe me,” said Pegram.

DWYER’S ZENYATTA ‘TAKE’ WELL RECEIVED

To say that Horse of the Year Zenyatta was able to transcend media and demographic boundaries would be the understatement of the decade. Further evidence of this is the column that appears below. Written by L.A. Times columnist and retired Sports Editor Bill Dwyre, it became an instant mega hit earlier in the week both in print and at LATimes.com.

“It is the most linked-to column I’ve ever had in five years of writing about everything from U.S. Open golf to U.S. Open tennis, to the Dodgers and the Lakers,” said Dwyre.

The column that follows first appeared at LATimes.com on Monday night, following the Eclipse Awards:

ZENYATTA’S SELECTION AS HORSE OF THE YEAR IS THOROUGHLY DESERVED

By Bill Dwyre

The final mantle of glory they placed on Zenyatt’s shoulders Monday night was wonderfully deserving and woefully inadequate.

She certainly was horse of the year. More accurately, she was horse of a lifetime.

Since the former is as high as the honors go in thoroughbred racing, it will suffice.

When the announcement was made, in a huge hotel ballroom in Miami Beach, Jerry Moss hugged his wife, Ann, and gave her a long kiss. For them, it was the ultimate ending to the ultimate gamble.

They had run her into her sixth year. They had brought her back after she had incredibly beaten the boys—a first for any mare—in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic. At this time last year, Zenyatta’s potential worth in future breeding earnings made Moss’ little business of producing and selling zillions of records with Herb Alpert look like a lemonade stand. One bad step by the talented lady and the equivalent of the gross national product of Iceland was gone.

By the time most thoroughbred stars of either gender are in their sixth year, racing is analyzing the possible success of their progeny in an upcoming Kentucky Derby and their owners are spending much quality time with their bankers.

The Mosses let love of sport transcend love of dollars. They did it for racing fans, and in this case, that is not a cliché.

In the televised aftermath of the much-anticipated announcement, microphones were predictably stuck in faces. One of the recipients, Dottie Ingordo, race manager for the Mosses, got right to the point.

“I’m so happy for the fans,” she said.

It was a basic, simple statement. What she meant was much deeper.

This was to be a controversial announcement. Many thought it was the toughest choice ever for Eclipse Award voters.

More so, it was to be a seminal moment in racing. Zenyatta had won her first 19 races, had done so by dancing in the paddock, posing for pictures like she was Heidi Klum and then sprinting from way behind—always way behind—to win at the wire. Zenyatta always finished like John Force started.

All the brightest minds in thoroughbred promotions could have spent millions and not come close to creating the drama she did every time she ran.

But the last time, she lost.

In the same race that had taken her public profile into the stratosphere the year before, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a wonderful colt with a fitting name—Blame—became the first horse to hold off Zenyatta’s always amazing finish.

And so, with a victory over Her Majesty, a legendary owner named Seth Hancock pushing for Blame’s horse-of-the-year candidacy in the news conference afterward, and Zenyatta’s record now sullied by her three-inch shortfall in her last race, racing had a controversy.

Insiders, many of them voters, favored Blame. Many seemed to put more value on the Grade I stakes won in the East by Blame than in the Grade I stakes won in the West by Zenyatta; also more value on victories on Eastern dirt than California synthetics. The general fan, especially a new legion of females who had come, seen Zenyatta and were conquered, didn’t know or care about Blame, even after the Classic. Zenyatta had grabbed their hearts, convinced them that hers was a sport worth watching.

That meant that an announcement saying Zenyatta wasn’t even considered by her own sport the best of the year could send hundreds of thousands of new fans away from the track, shaking their heads, never to return.

Ingordo got it right. This one was for the fans, as orchestrated by the Mosses. And, in the end, it is reasonable to conclude that that dynamic worked its way into the minds and hearts of many voters.

In the end, the vote was a fair 129-102. Plus, Blame’s Eclipse in he category of older male horse was a 228-0 unanimity. Zenyatta won older female horse for the third year in a row, missing that same unanimous designation by one vote.

Monday night, as always, brought the superlatives and attempts at the poetic over yet another Zenyatta victory.

Ingordo said this was a “diamond exclamation point” to Zenyatta’s career.

Ann Moss said, “She lifted spirits.”

Jockey Mike Smith, who had blamed himself after the loss to Blame for starting her too late on her homestretch drag race, said, “This makes it all OK.”

Jerry Moss, in his acceptance speech, quoted from an author who wrote that the presence of Zenyatta was like “when clouds fall away to reveal mountaintops.”

The man most responsible for this all, trainer John Shirreffs, simply said, “Zenyatta is a miracle.”

Like all sports, racing’s metronome will tick on. The Triple Crown prep races are upon us, Derby Day just around the corner. Zenyatta, soon to be further defined by her babies, will give way in headlines to racing’s next hot thing, Uncle Mo.

But years from now, old-timers on the backstretch will sit on a stump, clean the mud off their shoes and tell stories about horses of a lifetime. They will mention the likes of Seabiscuit, Secretariat, War Admiral, Seattle Slew, Affirmed.

And Zenyatta.

PRIVMAN, IKE TEAM UP FOR DAILY RACING FORM SEMINAR SATURDAY

Jay Privman, National Correspondent for Daily Racing Form, will host D.R.F.’s Saturday handicapping seminar, beginning at 11:15 a.m. in the East Paddock Gardens. Privman’s special guest will be syndicated handicapper Bob Ike, who is also co-host of the “Thoroughbred Los Angeles” radio show, heard Saturday and Sunday mornings from 8-9 a.m. on KLAA, AM 830. Also joining the seminar for a brief visit will be long-time public handicapper Jerry Antonucci, who retired last year, but who will be at Santa Anita on Saturday with a large group of family and friends, as he’ll feted by the track with a race named in his honor. For more than two decades, Antonucci was the previous host of the Saturday handicapping seminars at Santa Anita.

NINTH ANNUAL SUNSHINE MILLIONS TO BE RUN JAN. 29

A total of 98 horses were pre-entered Wednesday for the ninth annual Sunshine Millions, which will consist of six races worth $1.8 million in purse money to be run at Santa Anita and Gulftream, on Saturday, Jan. 29. Three races will be run at each venue, as the even showcases horses bred in California and Florida in state-to-state competition.

Santa Anita features the $200,000 Sprint at six furlongs; the $300,000 Distaff at 1 1/16 miles; and the $300,000 Turf at 1 1/8 miles.

Gulftream will present the $200,000 Filly & Mare Sprint at six furlongs; the $300,000 Filly & Mare Turf at 1 1/8 miles; and the $500,000 Classic at 1 1/8 miles.

FINISH LINES: California-bred millionaire gelding Lava Man, who banked $5,180,678 in his career, has settled into trainer Doug O’Neill’s barn as a 10-year-old pony horse. The son of Slew City Slew won 17 of 46 starts and was claimed as a 3-year-old by O’Neill for $50,000…2009 Grade I Malibu Stakes winner M One Rifle drilled five furlongs Friday in 59.20 for trainer Bruce Headley…Average workout times for Friday: Three furlongs; (18) 37.12, half mile; (32) 49.13, five furlongs; (52) 1:01.00, six furlongs; (21) 1:14.20, seven furlongs; (3) 1:28.73…

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