Speed reigned in Santa Anita’s trio of graded races Saturday on both dirt and turf, beginning with promising sophomore Forbidden Kingdom in the $200,000 San Vicente (G2).
San Vicente (G2)
Bob Baffert was triple-handed in the San Vicente, but all three were run off their feet by a son of his Triple Crown star American Pharoah. The Richard Mandella-trained Forbidden Kingdom blasted to the front and never looked back while covering seven furlongs in 1:22.75.
Baffert’s Del Mar Futurity (G1) hero, Pinehurst, chased in second through splits of :21.86 and :44.49. Stablemate McLaren Vale, a debut winner by Gun Runner, was third at every call and shaped as though he wants more distance. Outpaced in upper stretch, when Pinehurst briefly hampered him, McLaren Vale hit his best stride late and missed second by just a neck. The best-fancied of the trio, 4-5 favorite Doppelganger, was a non-threatening fourth throughout but finished with interest, and longshot What in Blazes trailed the quintet.
Forbidden Kingdom, a 3.90-1 chance, was moving forward from a pair of troubled stakes placings. The MyRacehorse and Spendthrift Farm runner tired to third in the Oct. 1 Speakeasy S. on turf, then reverted to dirt in the Nov. 14 Bob Hope (G3) and finished second to Baffert’s Messier. But Forbidden Kingdom exited that race with a bona fide excuse.
“He’s as quick as they come,” Mandella told track publicity. “In his last race, he tore a piece of his foot off and then we had a quarter crack. We had to just fix it up and it is good and we hope it stays good.
“We’ll have to try two turns down the road here,” Mandella added, with the Mar. 5 San Felipe (G2) the likely next step.
“He’s gotten better about everything. He was so professional today, everything went well. He used to get a little antsy in the gate. He’s stumbled a few times.”
Regular rider Juan Hernandez also found Forbidden Kingdom a more straightforward operator here.
“He has a lot of speed and sometimes he just runs off, but today he was a little different horse. He just relaxed a little bit more and it looked like he settled down a little bit more, so that helped a lot. Last time I think he went a little quick, but today he went to the lead. He was really happy and comfortable there, so I just let him run.
“I felt at the quarter pole the other horses were coming from behind me, so I just tapped him on the shoulder and I felt how he responded back, he never stopped. Everybody at the barn loves this horse and Mr. Mandella had him ready. Thank you to everyone at the barn for having this horse ready.”
Forbidden Kingdom furnished a $9.80 win payout while advancing his record to 4-2-1-1, $194,000. The $300,000 Fasig-Tipton yearling was bred in Kentucky by Springhouse Farm. His dam, the Grade 3-winning Five Star Day mare Just Louise, is a half to Grade 2 vixen Sara Louise.
Palos Verdes (G3)
Baffert rebounded in the $200,000 Palos Verdes (G3), but with his 9-5 second choice, Essential Wager. His 7-10 favorite, Cezanne, never gave his backers much encouragement in a belated third.
Owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman, Essential Wager was extending his winning streak to three in his stakes debut. The late-developing son of Honor Code broke his maiden at Del Mar in November and cleared his entry-level allowance condition at Los Alamitos on Dec. 11.
With Abel Cedillo aboard for the first time here, Essential Wager grabbed the lead through an opening quarter in :22.21. Team Merchants pressed through a half in :45.17, but Essential Wager put him away readily. Shooters Shoot then posed a greater danger, and Essential Wager stuck his neck out to hold on in 1:09.95 for six furlongs.
Third-placer Cezanne churned on another 2 3/4 lengths back. Team Merchants faded to fourth, and Dark Vader rounded out the small field following Arham’s scratch.
Essential Wager has now bankrolled $207,200 from his 4-3-1-0 line.
“This horse is getting better and better,” Baffert said. “He had trained really well. With Cezanne, I think it was a little too short for him.
“All of Essential Wager’s races have been pretty impressive and actually, he’s bred, not to be a sprinter. Abel did a great job, got him outta there and held off those horses pretty well. You know, he took a lot of heat early and kept going.”
Bred by Maccabee Farm in Kentucky and purchased for $300,000 as an OBS April juvenile, Essential Wager is out of the Grade 3-placed Officer mare Mr Hall’s Opus.
B4 Farms’ Canoodling sprang a 22-1 upset when let alone on the lead in the $101,000 Megahertz (G3) over a mile on turf. Well rated by Roimes Chirinos, the Mike Puype filly got away with splits of :25.30 and :49.87 on the firm course. Burgoo Alley drew nearer by the six-furlong mark in 1:14.51, but the damage was done. Canoodling had too much in reserve for the stretch, and she remained a half-length up in 1:37.30.
Runner-up Warren’s Showtime, the 17-10 favorite, was rather unlucky since she lacked sufficient room to deploy in the stretch. Avenue de France closed for third in the blanket finish, with Bodhicitta, Madone, Burgoo Alley, and Sloane Garden concluding the order under the wire. Kuora was withdrawn.
Canoodling paid $47.40 for her biggest victory, and a breakthrough for her rider.
“What a great day for me,” Chirinos said. “It’s my first graded stakes win in this beautiful country and at (Santa Anita). It is unbelievable.
“She’s a tiny, little filly but she’s got a really, really big heart and she always tries hard. Today they made it easy for me because they let me walk the first half and I thought wow, if they let me go like this, they will never pass me.”
Canoodling’s resume reads 14-7-1-2, $278,023. Her two prior stakes scores came with Todd Fincher in New Mexico.
“We felt she could route on the turf,” Puype said, referencing her pedigree. “Todd Fincher had left her with me, and this is where he wanted to run right after that last race (a fifth in the Dec. 26 La Brea [G1]) and I just got her ready the best we could. The jock did a good job. He nursed the fractions along good and we had no pace pressure. The fractions were slow and when they came to get her, she had plenty left.”
By Pioneerof the Nile and out of the Harlan’s Holiday mare Miz Kella, an unraced full sister to champion Shanghai Bobby, Canoodling was bred by Stonehaven Steadings in Kentucky and sold for $180,000 at Keeneland September.