May 18, 2024

Award Winner takes top honors in Whittingham; United last

Award Winner (outside) edges Acclimate in the Charles Whittingham S. (Benoit Photo)

Jockey Juan Hernandez won two of Santa Anita’s three graded races on Saturday, beating the favorite both times. The biggest surprise came in the $196,000 Charles Whittingham S. (G2). Defending champion and 3-10 favorite United wound up a non-threatening last behind Award Winner, the 6.70-1 third choice in a four-horse field. Hernandez later made it a graded double aboard the 5.60-1 Magic on Tap in the $200,000 Triple Bend (G2).

Charles Whittingham S. (G2)

Amerman Racing’s homebred Award Winner reeled in pacesetting Acclimate to earn his first stakes victory. The Ghostzapper gelding is in the form of his life since joining trainer David Hofmans, who also conditioned his dam, stakes winner Devine Actress. Now a celebrated producer, the Theatrical mare is responsible for four-time Grade 1 star Oscar Performance as well as multiple Grade 3-winning millionaire Oscar Nominated. Award Winner, just a five-year-old, could vie with his half-brothers’ earning power.

Coming off a frontrunning allowance score over this course and 1 1/4-mile distance, Award Winner established perfect position as Acclimate’s nearest pursuer. United was on hold a few lengths further away in third, with Red King content to trail through the opening mile.

Acclimate was winging it through fractions of :23, :46.66, 1:10.67, and 1:35.34 on the firm course. United took closer order entering the final turn, but favorite backers knew they were in trouble when he stalled from there.

Instead, Award Winner was the one advancing into the lane. Finding plenty when Hernandez set him down, the bay wore down Acclimate by a head in 1:59.27.

“This was a really big win for us,” Hernandez told Santa Anita publicity. “I knew that horse (Acclimate) had a lot of speed, so I let him go and my horse relaxed. I waited until the quarter pole and asked him one time and he really picked it up and made a huge move in the stretch. I was worried about the other horses (United and Red King), but they never touched us.”

Red King reported home third, while United was handled considerately by Flavien Prat once he failed to respond.

“He wasn’t traveling well,” Prat said of United. “I got no response when I asked him to run.”

Award Winner has compiled a record of 17-4-4-1, $328,474. He showed talent for original trainer Brian Lynch, placing to future Grade 3 hero Demarchelier in a Keeneland allowance and missing by a neck in the 2019 Kent S. (G3). But Award Winner didn’t build on that promise, and after a series of unplaced efforts in allowances in 2020, he ventured west to Hofmans. Rejuvenated by the change of scenery, Award Winner was a close second in his first two Santa Anita allowances at a mile. The stretch-out last time worked wonders, and he’s now 2-for-2 at 10 furlongs.

“When he first got here, I didn’t think he was gonna like it here,” Hofmans said. “But apparently, he liked it here better than he did back East. Something with the climate here; maybe he likes the warm weather, I don’t know. From day one he just started blossoming. Each week he got stronger, he got heavier, he ate more and he was enjoying his training. I think it’s just a change in location, which was important to him.

“I was so happy when John (Amerman) asked me to take the horse because I wanted to train (Devine Actress’s) offspring because they are all wonderful. It’s kind of a dream come true.”

Triple Bend S. (G2)

Hernandez came right back with another well-judged ride, this time in a dirt sprint, aboard Magic on Tap. Like Award Winner, Magic on Tap is a five-year-old blueblood who was scoring a stakes breakthrough. But this son of Tapit and the Grade 1-winning Street Sense mare Aubby K is an entire with stallion potential.

Trained by Bob Baffert for owner/breeder Jane Lyon’s Summer Wind Equine, Magic on Tap has been well regarded ever since his sharp debut win as a juvenile at Del Mar. The gray has taken nearly three years, however, to make it to stakes company. Off for nearly a year following his first start, he placed second in a pair of allowances in 2019, only to disappear for 18 months. Magic on Tap returned triumphant here on March 28, but regressed to a poor fourth in the April 17 Californian (G2).

The cutback to seven furlongs in the Triple Bend – his first sprint since his debut – proved the charm. Also decisive was the pace war between returning stablemate Eight Rings, the 8-5 favorite, and Lambeau, who dueled each other into the ground.

Lambeau held a slim advantage through splits of :22.10 and :45.03, but retreated turning for home. Although Eight Rings picked up the baton briefly, he already looked weary.

Magic on Tap, who had bided his time in an unhurried third, swept to the fore in the stretch. Clinging to his left lead and gawking, he crossed the wire two lengths clear in 1:23.54 (hand-timed).

“It looked like he was playing, he was looking around,” Hernandez said. “He never changed leads. I asked him a couple of times and he didn’t want to do it, so I let him alone because he kept running. It didn’t matter if he changed leads or not, he just kept going.”

Shooters Shoot stayed on from last to finish second. Exaulted, slowest away, churned on in third. Eight Rings faded to fourth, beating only his early foe Lambeau.

Baffert was hoping that the race would unfold differently for Eight Rings, but at least Magic on Tap picked up the pieces to enhance his resume to 6-3-2-0, $228,800.

“I was afraid of a speed duel, where we would wear each other out. Eight Rings was coming off a long layoff, so with fractions like that, it was crazy.

“I threw the other horse (Magic on Tap) in there. I was looking for an allowance race for the horse and then I decided to throw him into the stakes race. He is bred to be a good one. It was good to get a stakes win for him after he disappointed in the Californian. He is still a little green, but he has been working really well. 

“I was disappointed in Eight Rings, but you gotta get the trip. I thought we could run one-two today.”

Daytona S. (G3)

While United threw in a clunker in the Whittingham, stablemate Bombard performed to his 7-10 odds in the $100,000 Daytona S. (G3). The Richard Mandella veteran, newly blinkered, was all grit on the front end in the 6 1/2-furlong turf dash.

Withstanding pressure from Law Abidin Citizen through splits of :21.63 and :44.17, Bombard had enough left to stay ahead of the closing Majestic Eagle and Commander. The eight-year-old pulled off by 1 1/4 lengths in a final time of 1:14.47. Law Abidin Citizen tired to fourth, edging Jamming Eddy at the rear of the quintet.

Prat wasn’t inclined to credit the equipment change for Bombard’s first graded score.

“He broke really well and put himself in the race. He ran his race. I don’t think the blinkers on had anything to do with his race,” the winning rider said.

Bombard boosted his earnings to $459,771 from an 18-6-6-2 line, reflecting wins in the 2018 Wickerr and 2019 Siren Lure. The dark bay gelding came close when dead-heating for second in last fall’s Turf Sprint (G3) at Kentucky Downs. Eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1), he resumed with a runner-up effort to an in-form Gregorian Chant here April 25.

“He’s as good as he’s ever been, for sure,” Mandella said. “I don’t race him much. He’s got a few problems that we have to take care of, but he comes back and he pays us back. We’ll keep doing that as long as he’s having a good time and so are we.”

Campaigned by Perry Bass II, Ramona Bass, Adele Dilschneider, and Waddell Hancock II, the homebred is a War Front half-brother to Grade 2-placed Amuse. Their dam, the Grade 3-winning Distorted Humor mare Witty, is herself a half to 2009 Dubai World Cup (G1) romper Well Armed.

“Both (Bombard and United) are old geldings and are just big pets around the barn,” Mandella added. “When you walk by they usually stop, looking for a mint.”