SANTA ANITA NOTEBOOK
by Bernard T. Moore
The holiday season is behind us now, as well as a few additional pounds.
Nevertheless, amidst all of the celebrating and over indulgence recently, Santa
Anita Park opened its doors once more on December 26 for its traditional
This meet has been used in years past as a proving ground for three-year-olds
entertaining Kentucky Derby (G1) aspirations, and older runners gearing up for the prestigious
Santa Anita H. (G1), which will be run on March 5.
The traditional opening day fixture of the Santa Anita meet is the Malibu H.
(G1) for sophomores. A stellar cast assembled for this year’s renewal, namely
Preakness S. (G1) runner-up ROCK HARD TEN (Kris S.), Mass Media (Touch Gold) and Quintons Gold Rush
(Wild Rush). The bulk of the wagering support in the Malibu was divided between
Mass Media and Rock Hard Ten, and it would be the latter that would eventually
carry the day, as the Richard Mandella trainee closed furiously between rivals
in deep stretch to win going away by a half-length before 31,874 onlookers.
Badly outrun early, Rock Hard Ten did not begin to level off under Gary
Stevens until the field turned for home. The grandson of Roberto still faced an
uphill battle, but was relentless in his pursuit of the leaders as Stevens
deftly guided him between runners to win with something left. Lava Man (Slew
City Slew), who was a prominent pace factor from the outset while racing
three-wide, gained a tenuous lead late, but could not contain the winner.
Harvard Avenue (You and I) closed with good energy to finish third, a nose ahead
of Perfect Moon (Malibu Moon), who attended the early fractions. Mass Media
finished a close fifth, but lacked the necessary punch when called upon and may
not have cared for being pinned down along the rail in the stretch.
This was Rock Hard Ten’s first start for Mandella, who took over his training
after an abysmal effort in the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park in
August that sent the colt to the sidelines for nearly five months. In stark
contrast to his behavior earlier in the year, the winner was a complete
gentleman in the paddock, a sign that the time away had done him a world of
good. If Rock Hard Ten’s performance in the Malibu can be used as barometer as
to what can be expected from him in 2005, he will be undoubtedly make his
presence felt in future marquee races as well.
The following day, Santa Anita once again carded the La Brea S. (G1) for
three-year-old fillies. Alphabet Kisses (Alphabet Soup) outran her 20-1 post-time
odds and nine other rivals to win by a decisive length over New York-invader
Bending Strings (American Chance). The winner, trained by Martin Jones, broke
alertly to duel head and head for the early lead. She traded punches with
eventual third-place finisher Elusive Diva (Elusive Quality) on the front end
until midstretch, when she finally disposed of that rival and was well within
herself as she fended off the late challenge of Bending Strings.
Alphabet Kisses recorded her first graded stakes victory for Harris Farms
Inc., her owner and breeder, whose operation is based in California. She was
ridden by Mike Smith and returned a generous $42.20 to her supporters. Alphabet
Kisses’ performance in the La Brea was obviously the best in her career, and her
connections are mulling over the idea of a subsequent start in the Sunshine
Millions in late January.
Yearly Report (General Meeting) was scratched from the La Brea after
sustaining an ankle injury, and undoubtedly would have been the favorite in the
race had she run. The injury is not career threatening, and she should only miss
a few days of training.
Because of torrential rain in Southern California, the Monrovia H. on New
Year’s Eve was transferred from turf to the main track and as a result lost its
Grade 3 status. The surface switch suited trainer Bob Baffert and RESPLENDENCY
(Tale of the Cat) just fine as the three-year-old filly splashed her way to a
decisive one-length victory over eight other rivals. The winner dueled on the
lead from the outset and was able to dispose of her pace combatants on the far
turn. With Casey Fusilier at the helm, the pair maintained a daylight advantage
to the wire as Puxa Saco (Dehere) came running late for second. Market Garden
(Bold Badgett), part of the 7-5 favored entry, loomed a threatening presence in
the stretch, but failed to sustain that rally late and checked in third.
The addition of blinkers once again seemed to benefit Resplendency immensely
as she was extremely focused throughout the Monrovia. This was her initial
graded stakes victory, in addition to her first win over a wet track.
Heavy rain necessitated that the $150,000 San Gabriel H. (G3), which was
originally carded as a Grade 2, be switched to dirt on Saturday. As a result,
TRULY A JUDGE (Judge T C), fresh off back-to-back wins at Hollywood Park, was
bet down to odds-on favoritism. A deserving winner, Truly a Judge really had to
work to emerge with a victory. First, he had to discourage a pesky Forty Suertudo (Arg)
(Roar) on the front end. After accomplishing that task, the seven-year-old
gelding had to brace for the rally of a fresh Star Cross (Arg) (Southern Halo)
in the stretch.
Both Truly a Judge and his jockey, Martin Pedroza, were up for the challenge
as the runner-up’s late charge fell a length short. Continental Red (Flying
Continental), the 7-2 second choice in the wagering, offered only a token
response late for third after racing in last much of the way.
Truly a Judge has been regarded by trainer by David Bernstein as the best
horse he ever claimed, and one can understand why. His win in the San Gabriel
was the 12th of his career and his fourth victory since blinkers were removed in
Despite an intense fight for the lead virtually every step up the way,
AREYOUTALKINTOME (Smokester) was able to come away with a hard fought victory in
Sunday’s El Conejo H. (G3).
Exhibiting much improved early speed off a freshening, the four-year-old
disputed a wicked pace between rivals before edging away in the final sixteenth
of a mile for a solid victory. Hombre Rapido (Falstaff), who was also part of
the pace battle on the front end, held well for second, beaten less than two
lengths. Woke Up Dreamin (Holy Bull) finished third, completing the bottom rung
of a three-horse speed duel trifecta. McCann’s Mojave (Memo), who was bet down
to 9-5 favoritism, raced evenly and clearly needed this race off a long layoff.
He may have also disliked the off going.
The victory in the El Conejo was third of four wins on the card for trainer
Doug O’Neill. This win also marked the first stakes victory vs. open rivals for
Areyoutalkintome, a California-bred runner who once again demonstrated his
affinity for the Santa Anita main track.
By virtue of his four scores on Sunday, O’Neill was able to open up a
four-win lead over fellow trainers Bob Baffert and Ruben Cardenas. The latter
has four victories from just five starters at the meet. John Sadler and Adam
Kitchingman round out the top 5.
Rene Douglas holds a slim one win lead over Tyler Baze, with Jon Court
trailing Baze by the same margin in third. Smith holds down the fourth spot,
with new arrival Mark Guidry completing the top five.
Deluged by rain, the Santa Anita Park main track contained varying degrees of
moisture all week. As one would expect with a wet track, early speed was
preferred, but come from behind runners were not severely disadvantaged. There
did not appear to be a glaring bias either toward the inside or outside paths.
Turf racing was non-existent.
HORSES TO WATCH
3RD – THE DEMPSEY LOOK (Sir Cat) closed very well for the place in a swiftly
run race and was hindered somewhat by a speed biased track. Equally adept at
handling turf or dirt, she should be extremely dangerous in her next start if
properly spotted. A switch back to jockey Corey Nakatani only helps.
8TH – WEEKEND AT LARRY’S (Larry the Legend) showed a dramatic reversal in
form in his second career start off a prolonged layoff. Displayed newfound
tactical speed to the stalk pace while racing a bit wide and dispensed a strong
move on the turn to vie for the lead, weakening only slightly in deep stretch as
his rustiness began to show. Bred top and bottom for a route of ground.
3RD – JUBILEE (Honor Grades) gave way badly after contesting the early
fractions going a flat mile around two turns. Would benefit from a freshening
and a return to a dirt sprint.
4TH – SPLIT PERSONALITY (Larry the Legend) finished a strong third off the
layoff while stretching out to a mile. Exhibiting newfound tactical speed with
the addition of blinkers, she secured a daylight lead in the stretch but
weakened under pressure.
2ND – STANDING BRAVE (Broad Brush) gave a creditable effort in career debut
over a wet track. Dueled for the lead while racing a bit wide and tired. Should
have derived beneficial conditioning from this race and is bred to improve with
age and distance. Dam was multiple Grade1-placed.
5TH – AMASOLDIER (Lost Soldier) turned in a much-improved effort finishing
third in his second start off a prolonged layoff while dropping in class.
Displayed new tactics, closing well from off the pace, and is eligible for
restricted starter allowance contests.
8TH – Forty Suertudo held well setting a pressured pace against a classy
Truly a Judge. Gave ground grudgingly to fresh closers and would benefit from
some class relief and a cut back in distance, especially if he is returned to a
low-level allowance contest.
6TH – TATTLETALE TONYA (Beau Genius) ran gamely to finish third in her second
career start. Overcame a tough outside post to dispute the pace and tired slowly
in the stretch in a much-improved effort.