DECEMBER 30, 2005
by Dick Powell
Many of us can't wait for the day after Christmas because it means the opening of the Santa Anita winter meet. This year's opening was even more longed for because it marked the return of turf racing, which had been absent in Southern California since November 6 when Hollywood Park's new turf course failed to germinate.
Well, the wait proved to be worth it as Santa Anitaís 2005 Opening Day more than lived up to the hype.
Cal-breds have been in the news recently and the trend continued in the 3RD race when the Bob Baffert-trained DA STOOPS (Distorted Humor) gunned to the front and won the California Breedersí Champion S. for juveniles. Second in the Hollywood Prevue (G3) in his previous start, Da Stoops drew off to an easy 8 3/4-length win at Santa Anita in the blazing fast time of 1:21.63. In his lone attempt at two turns, he finished a good third to A. P. Warrior (A.P. Indy) and Bob and John (Seeking the Gold), going a mile in fast time.
Distorted Humor has already sired a Kentucky Derby (G1) winner in Funny Cide, a Travers (G1) victor in Flower Alley and a Whitney H. (G1) hero in Commentator, so donít rule out Da Stoops' ability to get two turns.
In the 5TH race, a first-level allowance race on the turf going a mile, a nice field of 11 was drawn. The public sent out Excess Temptations (In Excess [Ire]) as the lukewarm 2-1 favorite based on a good win against Cal-breds here going a mile two months ago. Second choice in the wagering was CHARMO (Fr) (Charnwood Forest [Ire]), who broke his maiden two starts back in his U.S. debut for Julio Canani in a downhill sprint at Santa Anita. He came back with a third last time and was now stretching back out to a mile.
For the past two years in France, Charmo has competed against some of the best of his generation. He's been close to such top performers as Valixir (Ire) (Trempolino), Bago (Fr) and Cacique (Ire) (Danehill). However, he was winless from 16 starts in France and neither of his turf sprints at Oak Tree had earned fast BRIS Speed figures.
I took a pass on Charmo breaking from post 9 and tried to beat him. Big mistake, especially against first-level allowance foes and not the group races that he competed in France. Garrett Gomez took Charmo back and sat third from last going around the first turn. The official chart for the race has Charmo in last after a quarter-mile was run, but any review of the replay will show that this is clearly wrong.
Gomez began to pick up horses down the backside and, with a half-mile to go, he was eighth about seven lengths behind. Charmo saved some ground around the far turn, split horses at the top of the stretch and unleashed a devastating late run to win going away by 2 1/4 lengths. His final time for the mile was a strong 1:34.12, and his last half mile was :46 and change.
Look out Breeders' Cup Mile (G1). Charmo's rider, Gomez, won this year's Mile with Artie Schiller (El Prado [Ire]); his trainer, Canani, has won two renewals of the Mile, with Silic (Fr) in 1999 and Val Royal (Fr) in 2001; and his owner, David Milch, owned Val Royal. With all the black type that he has earned, Canani will have to choose between another allowance event or plot an immediate stakes schedule.
The 6TH race was as competitive as any juvenile maiden special weight sprint you will see anywhere. The field of 13 had everything you look for in this type of event -- pedigrees, trainer angles, first-time starters and horses who have already shown running talent.
I wound up going with a first-time starter named Gonestylin (Gone West), who had all the ingredients that I look for in this spot. By top first-out sire Gone West (Mr. Prospector) - 19 percent according to BRIS - he's out of Likeable Style (Nijinsky II), who not only won her career debut at two but came back to win the Las Virgenes S. (G1) at Santa Anita at three. She's produced three winners from three other foals to race and trainer Rafael Becerra wins with 20 percent of his first-time starters and an amazing 31 percent when they debut at the maiden special weight condition.
Gonestylin opened around 20-1 in the betting and began to drift up in price. The drift took on gale-like qualities as his closing price was 44-1. With first-time starters you like to see some money come in as a sign of confidence that the horse is working well and might be a runner, but Gonestylin was dead on the board. His race was not much better.
Overbet, odds-on favorite CINDAGO (Indian Charlie) gunned to the front and chased Mister Triester (Old Trieste) through a first half in :44.78 before taking over turning for home. First-time starter Latent Heat (Mariaís Mon) looked like a winner when he collared Cindago in the deep stretch, but Cindago used his experience edge to his best advantage and battled back to win by a half-length.
Trained by John Sadler and ridden by Gomez, Cindago cost $900,000 this year at the Barretts March two-year-olds in training sale and is beginning to pay dividends. He showed good speed out of the gate against a bulky field, settled nicely while chasing the speed and dug in when challenged in the last furlong.
Latent Heat won't be a maiden much longer for Bobby Frankel and has the deep pedigree one would expect from Juddmonte Farms. Point Determined (Point Given) rallied for third despite being shuffled back from post 1, and his Bob Baffert-trained entrymate, Royal Legacy (Monarchos), looked stiff in the post parade but made up a lot of ground to get fourth. Definitely a key race in the making.
The 8TH race was the long-awaited Malibu S. (G1) for sophomores going seven furlongs. There aren't many Grade 1 sprints for sophomores on the dirt, but this one did not attract many graded stakes quality sprinters.
Yes, 2004 Breedersí Cup Juvenile (G1) winner, Wilko (Awesome Again), was making his second start off a long layoff, but he has only won once in America on the dirt and was two for 10 on the turf in Europe as a juvenile. Attila's Storm (Forest Wildcat) was the lone legitimate graded stakes sprinter after running a huge race in the Breedersí Cup Sprint (G1) and then winning the Fall Highweight H. against older sprinters in his last start at Aqueduct.
The negatives for Attila's Storm included shipping across country and making his fourth start off three straight big efforts. An inside post with Pat Valenzuela on a track that was kind to speed did make him the horse to beat, though.
Greeley's Galaxy (Mr. Greeley), Thor's Echo (Swiss Yodeler), Shamoan (Ire) (Monashee Mountain) and Unbridled Energy (Unbridled's Song) are all legitimate middle-distance horses, but turning back to a sprint where everyone is going to be on the engine can often be a tough task.
PROUD TOWER TOO (Proud Irish) was a sharp winner against Cal-bred allowance foes three starts back here going seven furlongs in 1:21 2/5. He came back with a mediocre performance in the Cal Cup Sprint, where he broke poorly and raced between horses, before returning with a very strong win at Hollywood Park last out. Of all the other pure sprinters in the race, he seemed to be able to carry his speed better than the others. He drew a good middle post just outside of Attila's Storm and, if the main track played like it did in the 6TH race, he could be in the right place at the right time.
David Cohen broke Proud Tower Too quickly from the gate and was in the first flight out of the chute. He forged to the lead after a furlong was run and Valenzuela guided Attila's Storm to his outside and put on the pressure. They dueled through a first quarter in :22.27, which is quite slow compared to the first quarters these guys have been running lately.
Around the far turn, Valenzuela and Attila's Storm looked like they had Proud Tower Too measured. The second quarter of :22.09 was faster than the first and it didnít look like anyone was coming. Usually in this kind of race, you see big middle moves being made around the turn, but it was apparent with three furlongs to run that this was going to be a two-horse race. After six furlongs in 1:08.61, the pair battled to the wire with Attila's Storm gradually weakening and Proud Tower Too winning by a length despite running the last furlong in :13.01.
It was the first graded win for Proud Tower Too, while trainer Sal Gonzalez and rider Cohen each earned their first Grade 1 victory. Proud Tower Too was bred in California by his owner, the Tricar Stables, and joins Brother Derek (Benchmark) as recent Cal-bred Grade 1 winners.
Attila's Storm was very gallant in defeat and with some rest could be sitting on a huge sprint season in 2006. He's fast and game and has now run well on four different tracks for Richard Schosberg. Thor's Echo had a little bit of traffic trouble on the turn when sitting down on the inside behind the two leaders and finished well for third. I was not impressed with the rest, but to be fair it was a tough track to mount any rallies.
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