February 24, 2024

Perfectly timed rally carries Stilleto Boy to Santa Anita Handicap upset

Stilleto Boy winning the Santa Anita H. (G1) at Santa Anita (Photo by Benoit Photo)

A driving finish in the $500,000 Santa Anita H. (G1) on Saturday at Santa Anita saw Stilleto Boy edge Proxy and Defunded to win a thrilling renewal of the historic 1 1/4-mile prize.

A perfectly timed ride from Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux carried Stilleto Boy to victory. Desormeaux won the “Big Cap” in 1992 aboard Best Pal and in 2002 aboard Milwaukee Brew. Both of those triumphs came by blowout margins, but guiding Stilleto Boy to the winner’s circle required careful timing and a hard drive to the finish line.

When the gates opened, 13-10 favorite Defunded dashed to the lead, carving out testing fractions of :23.34, :46.16, and 1:10.72 while closely pressed by stablemate Hopper. Stilleto Boy raced a close third in the early going, but got shuffled back as the pace intensified, falling to fifth place with half a mile remaining. Meanwhile, Proxy waited off the pace, racing in eighth position while trailing Defunded by as many as eight lengths.

“I just wanted to let him run out front, but they shut me off and we had to settle back,” Desormeaux told Santa Anita. “Everything else, I followed (trainer) Ed Moger’s instructions. (Stilleto Boy) wasn’t enjoying himself getting hit by dirt, so we moved out and he kept going.”

Bettors wouldn’t have been surprised to see Defunded kick on down the homestretch. He entered the Santa Anita H. as the 125-pound highweight after winning the Awesome Again (G1) and Native Diver (G3) and finishing second in the Pegasus World Cup (G1).

But in the Pegasus World Cup, Defunded finished only 1 1/4 lengths ahead of third-place finisher Stilleto Boy, and that was after Stilleto Boy carved out the pace. The positions were flipped in the Santa Anita H., with Defunded taking on the pacesetting role while Stilleto Boy (under 122 pounds) bided his time, and the role reversal arguably decided the outcome.

Indeed, when the field turned for home, Defunded edged away from Hopper but appeared to be growing leg-weary. At that point, Desormeaux had Stilleto Boy on the move, and the 13-1 longshot responded to encouragement with a determined rally.

“At the three and a half, I asked him for his best, but there was nowhere to go,” continued Desormeaux.
“Then at the two and a half, I asked him again and he made the drive. I was yelling at him and pushing him and he gave me everything.”

The outcome was uncertain with a sixteenth of a mile remaining, especially when Proxy (toting 123 pounds) joined the fray with a giant charge on the far outside. But Desormeaux’s timing was flawless, and Stilleto Boy ran down Defunded and held off Proxy to win by a neck in 2:01.96.

“I didn’t know until two jumps prior to the wire that we were going to get there,” said Desormeaux.

Proxy, fifth in the Pegasus World Cup but winner of the Clark (G1) last fall, caught Defunded by half a length for second place. Hopper held gamely for fourth place, followed by There Goes Harvard, Tisquantum, Newgrange, Warrant, and Heywoods Beach.

Winning trainer Ed Moger Jr. praised Stilleto Boy’s performance.

“I’ve been telling everyone that he is the best horse in racing,” said winning trainer Ed Moger Jr. “I really think he is the best horse, the race in the Pegasus was a really strong race and we had him go out of the 11 hole that day, Defunded barely beat us that day, so I knew we could beat him because we had beaten him before, I thought he was the horse to beat. I thought he could win, and he’s been training great.”

The Santa Anita H. marked a satisfying breakthrough for Stilleto Boy. Bred by John Kerber and Iveta Kerber and owned by Steve Moger, the five-year-old chestnut gelding had previously placed half a dozen times at the Grade 1 level. Winner of the 2022 Californian (G2) and 2021 Iowa Derby, Stilleto Boy has banked $1,711,675 during a productive career comprised of 21 starts, four wins, four seconds, and eight thirds dating back to 2020.