- GOLDEN STATE GOLDEN AT ECLIPSE AWARDS
- CAL-BREDS VIE FOR $1 MILLION ON SATURDAY
- CHAMP FINEST CITY EYES GRASSY BUENA VISTA
GOLDEN STATE GLITTERS AT ECLIPSE AWARDS
The Golden State was never more golden than it was Saturday night, after seven horses that call California home won eight Eclipse Awards as best in their divisions for 2016.
Heading the list was California Chrome, who was named Horse of the Year and champion Older Male. It was only the second time any horse managed to win multiple Horse of the Year titles in non-consecutive years. Chrome, who also won the honor in 2014, thus joined legendary John Henry, winner in 1981 and 1984.
Other California-based champions were Champagne Room, two-year-old female; Arrogate, three-year-old male; Songbird, three-year-old female; Beholder, older female; Drefong, male sprinter; and Finest City, female sprinter.
“It just goes to show you how tough it is out here in California,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who conditions Arrogate and Drefong.
“We have really good horses and everybody buys fast horses. I appreciated that I did get 20-some votes (actually 21, good for second to runaway winner Chad Brown with 208) for (outstanding) trainer, which is pretty good.
“I used to get five votes, and Jill (his wife) told me five years ago the only way I could win again was to part the Red Sea or win the Triple Crown, and she was right.”
Baffert, who braved wet, wintry conditions Sunday morning at Clockers’ Corner, did the latter in 2015, masterminding Horse of the Year American Pharoah to a Triple Crown sweep, the first in 37 years.
Arrogate was a finalist for Horse of the Year along with Chrome, but finished a distant second, 202 to 40. Arrogate was, however, named champion three-year-old male with 243 of the 248 votes, far outdistancing finalists Nyquist (two), who won the Kentucky Derby, and Exaggerator (also two), winner of the Santa Anita Derby and the Preakness Stakes.
“It takes a superior performance to beat a Kentucky Derby winner like Nyquist, who was undefeated going into the race,” Baffert said. “A horse has to do something special.”
Arrogate assuredly did that, winning the Grade I Travers by 13 ½ lengths in track record time and defeating California Chrome in a memorable Breeders’ Cup Classic, giving Baffert an unprecedented third straight win in the marquee World Championship event.
“We work very hard to compete at the top level, win big races and championships; that’s always our goal,” Baffert said. “I’m proud of our team and what we’ve accomplished.
“We were hoping for Horse of the Year but I guess we came to the party too late.”
Meanwhile, Baffert plans to ship Arrogate Tuesday from Santa Anita to Gulfstream Park for the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational and a highly anticipated rematch with California Chrome, who was overtaken in deep stretch by Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Nov. 5, falling a half-length short of victory.
“I’m happy we got that work into him yesterday but we’ve still got a lot of hurdles to overcome,” Baffert said. “We’ve got to ship, he’s got to stay healthy, he’s got to draw well; that will be crucial as well as the break.
“But work-wise, we got all we wanted, so we’re going in treating it like another race.”
ENOLA GRAY SET FOR SUNSHINE MILLIONS RACE
Enola Gray, undefeated in her only start on Santa Anita’s downhill turf course, is set to explode next Saturday in the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf Sprint at about 6 ½ furlongs over the same venue.
“I think she likes the hill,” said Phil D’Amato, who trains the four-year-old Grazen filly for owner/breeder Nick Alexander. “She’s one for one on it; hopefully she’ll make it two for two.”
Enola Gray won the California Distaff Handicap at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf Oct. 15.
She worked five furlongs Saturday between races on a fast main track in 59.60.
The Filly & Mare Turf Sprint is one of five stakes Saturday in the Golden State Series for California-bred or sired horses, offering a total of $1 million in purse money.
The others are the $150,000 Donald Valpredo California Cup Sprint; the $200,000 California Oaks; the $250,000 California Cup Derby; and the $250,000 California Cup Turf Classic presented by City National Bank.
FINISH LINES: Trainer Ian Kruljac said Sunday morning that Eclipse Award female sprint champion Finest City, winner of Saturday’s Grade II Santa Monica Stakes at seven furlongs on a wet/fast track in her five-year-old debut, could make her next start on grass in the Grade II Buena Vista Stakes at one mile on Feb. 18 . . . Santa Anita is dark for live racing Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Live action resumes Thursday at 1 p.m. Admission gates open at 11 a.m.