June 18, 2024

Air Force Red takes off in Joe Hernandez; Queen Goddess reigns in Robert J. Frankel

Air Force Red and jockey Juan Hernandez win the Joe Hernandez Stakes at Santa Anita (Photo by Benoit Photo)

Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners got their New Year’s Eve party started early Saturday with a graded turf double at Santa Anita. After Air Force Red wired the $252,500 Joe Hernandez (G2) on the downhill course, Queen Goddess likewise dictated in the $102,500 Robert J. Frankel (G3) over a route.

Joe Hernandez (G2)

With the scratch of principal pace rival Super Ocho, the 7.20-1 Air Force Red was able to control the Joe Hernandez from the start. The Leonard Powell trainee scrambled to the front, chased by 1.70-1 favorite Smooth Like Strait and Lane Way, through splits of :22.19 and :43.65 on the good course. As the miler Smooth Like Strait got outpaced in the stretch, Lane Way persevered in pursuit, but Air Force Red was too fast. Under Juan Hernandez, the son of Air Force Blue held sway by 1 3/4 lengths while completing about 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:11.53.

Lane Way was 1 1/2 lengths clear of late-running Gregorian Chant, who fared best of the closers. Smooth Like Strait just salvaged fourth by a neck from the rallying Irideo, and Whatmakessammyrun was another neck away in sixth. Kiss Today Goodbye, Front Run the Fed, Sigiloso, and Hit the Road concluded the order of finish.

Air Force Red, who returned $16.40, is now 4-for-5 on the downhill turf, with an overall record of 10-5-0-0, $354,140. Campaigned by Eclipse in partnership with Holly Golightly, the bay ridgling was shortening up from his initial stakes win in the Oct. 29 Lure S. over a mile. He was previously fourth in the Sept. 3 Del Mar Mile (G2) and fifth in the Oct. 1 Eddie D (G2).

Eclipse’s Aron Wellman was kindly thinking about “Eddie D,” retired Hall of Famer Eddie Delahoussaye, in the winner’s circle Saturday. Delahoussaye is mourning the loss of daughter Mandy, who passed away Friday in Lafayette, Louisiana, and Wellman expressed his condolences to the riding legend and his family.

Bred by the Stephen B. Weissman Living Trust in Kentucky, Air Force Red is out of the Mizzen Mast mare Mesana. His fourth dam, Pharlette, is the ancestress of multiple Grade 1 winners Cetewayo and Dynaforce.

Robert J. Frankel (G3)

Queen Goddess carries jockey John Velazquez to victory in the Robert J. Frankel Stakes (Photo by Benoit Photo)

Queen Goddess was a fitting winner of this race honoring the late Hall of Fame trainer, as a daughter of Frankel’s 2003 Belmont (G1) hero Empire Maker. Although she had not raced since her second in the May 14 Santa Barbara (G3), the layoff wasn’t so much of a question for the Michael McCarthy filly as the distance. Queen Goddess has scored her signature wins going 1 1/4 miles, in last year’s off-the-turf American Oaks (G1) and the Mar. 26 Santa Ana (G3). Could she dispatch this field at 1 1/8 miles? Bettors thought so, sending her off as the 2-1 choice.

In her favor was the role of controlling speed. The one who could have pressed her to greatest effect, Burgoo Alley, scratched in favor of Monday’s Las Cienegas (G3). Thus Queen Goddess made the most of a comfortable lead.

Hall of Famer John Velazquez rationed out her speed through fractions of :24.39, :48.89, and 1:12.42, and Queen Goddess put the race away by the mile in 1:36.25. Fellow comebacker Closing Remarks lay closer than usual in hopes of catching her, but Queen Goddess was unassailable. Driving to a 2 1/2-length victory, she clocked 1:48.35.

Closing Remarks was best of the rest by 1 1/4 lengths from Quattroelle. England’s Rose was along belatedly for fourth, followed by Warrens Candy Girl, Bipartisanship, Avenue de France, New Heat, Scarabea, and early stalker Island of Love.

Queen Goddess has bankrolled $470,580 from her 10-5-2-1 line. The dark bay was making her first start since selling for $1.525 million at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November, dissolving the partnership between her breeder, Tolo Thoroughbreds, and Eclipse. She remained in the Eclipse fold but picked up a new co-owner in Gary Barber, whose colors she sported in the Frankel.

Kentucky-bred Queen Goddess originally RNA’d for $285,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling. Her dam, stakes-placed Royal Story, is herself by a Belmont winner in champion Lemon Drop Kid (1999). This is the further family of Persistently, who floored Rachel Alexandra in the 2010 Personal Ensign (G1), descending from Hall of Famer Heavenly Prize.

Las Flores (G3)

The front-running pattern was overturned when the stakes action shifted to dirt for the $101,500 Las Flores (G3), as Lady T rallied in deep stretch to win going away by 1 1/4 lengths.

Trained by John Shirreffs and piloted by Victor Espinoza, the 2.40-1 shot relaxed off the hot pace and gradually improved position. Up front, Doris Mae and Manorelli were duking it out through an opening quarter in :21.97. Doris Mae got the upper hand passing the half-mile in :44.26, but Manorelli hung around stubbornly on the inside in the stretch.

By that point, 1.30-1 favorite Samurai Charm and Lady T were beginning to come into contention. Lady T engaged turbo while Samurai Charm stayed one-paced. Going rapidly through the gears in the final strides, the Into Mischief sophomore swept past the leaders in 1:09.65.

Manorelli’s persistence was rewarded as she outfinished Doris Mae by a half-length for second. Samurai Charm wound up fourth, trailed by Lexington Humor, Violent Runner, Anacapa, and the ever-last Classical Romance.

Owned by Tina and Jerome Moss, Lady T was earning not only her first stakes win, but her first outside of maiden company. Espinoza described the filly as complicated, and her quirks have contributed to her seconditis. Her 11-2-6-0, $229,700, resume reflects runner-up efforts in the 2021 Desi Arnaz S. and June 12 Summertime Oaks (G2). She also tried turf unsuccessfully at Del Mar over the summer, finishing fourth in an eventful San Clemente (G2) and 12th in the Del Mar Oaks (G1).

The $235,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase was bred in Kentucky by Springhouse Farm and Circular Rd Breeders. Lady T is a half-sister to Prepare for Battle, winner of a non-black-type stakes in Qatar. They are out of the Malibu Moon mare Red Carpet Miss, herself a daughter of multiple Grade 3 victress Stylish.