|Sunday, January 17|
MARATHON ASTRA SUITS POWELL’S FILLY
GAINES TRIPLE TEAMS HER OAKS RIVALS
RACING MOURNS LOSS OF BRUCE HEADLEY
MEGAHERTZ STAKES ON HOLIDAY MONDAY
LONGTIME RACING PUBLICIST WESS PASSES
BAFFERT FIRST TIMER GETS 88 BEYER FIG
FRENCH CONNECTION SET FOR SUNDAY’S ASTRA
Avenue de France makes her United State stakes debut in Sunday’s Grade III Astra Stakes and native Frenchman Leonard Powell hopes the French-bred filly’s late kick is beneficial in the mile-and-half turf marathon.
She closed from ninth in a field of 10 to capture an allowance race at 1 1/8 miles by a half-length last out on Santa Anita’s opening day Dec. 26.
In 2019 she was unbeaten in two starts in her native country at a mile on grass, and save for two of her six races in America, she has come storming home late.
“With her style, she was able to settle in her last couple of races and hopefully that will be the key for her to go a mile and a half,” said her trainer, a 46-year-old native of Deauville, who grew up on his family’s 200-acre stud farm in Normandy, Le Haras du Lieu des Champs.
Another advantage, in Powell’s opinion, is the fact that Avenue de France has run without Lasix in her last five races, and in the Astra all of her rivals also will be racing sans Lasix for the first time in the U.S., complying with a regulation that went into effect Jan. 1.
In other words, Powell feels all the horses will be competing “on an equal playing field.”
Powell rode as an amateur jockey on both the flat and over the hurdles and served as official guardian for fellow Frenchman Flavien Prat for several years when Prat came to the U.S. as a teenager.
Powell’s mentors read like an international Who’s Who of horsemen: Richard Mandella, Neil Drysdale, John Shirreffs, John Gosden, John Hawkes, Peter Snowden and Michael Kent among them.
Owned by Benowitz Family Trust, Convergence Stable, Madaket Stables, LLC, et al, Avenue de France was bred by SARL Jedburgh Stud and Thierry De La Heronniere, of whom Powell is familiar from his days in France. He has the utmost regard for its breeding operation
Avenue de France will be joined by two other French-bred females in the Astra, Altea, trained by Irishman Paddy Gallagher, and Hermaphrodite, conditioned by John Sadler.
Drayden Van Dyke, who has ridden Avenue de France in each of her six U.S. races, will be aboard once again in the Astra, which goes as the seventh of nine races with a 12:30 p.m. first post time.
The field: Avenue de France, Drayden Van Dyke, 6-1; Altea, Abel Cedillo, 15-1; Aunt Lubie, Victor Espinoza, 8-1; Hermaphrodite, Joel Rosario, 6-1; Lucky Peridot, Juan Hernandez, 15-1; Carpe Vinum, Jose Valdivia Jr., 20-1; Quick, Umberto Rispoli, 5-2; and Ms. Peintour, Flavien Prat, 4-1.
AN OAKS FIRST FOR GAINES, THREE IN SAME STAKES
Today will mark a first for Carla Gaines.
To the best of her recollection, she has never sent out three horses in the same stakes, but that will end when Closing Remarks, Sensible Cat and Westward Breeze run in the Leigh Ann Howard California Cup Oaks.
Closing Remarks won her debut race at five furlongs on Del Mar’s turf last Aug. 31, but lacked room when 10th last out in the Grade III Jimmy Durante going a mile on grass at the seaside oval.
Sensible Cat won the Soviet Problem on dirt against California-breds at Los Alamitos Dec. 12, and was an impressive maiden winner at a mile on turf at Del Mar one race prior, on Nov. 6.
Westward Breeze rallied after a slow start in her debut race, winning by 3 ½ lengths in a 5 ½ furlong turf sprint at Santa Anita last Oct. 23. She was “sandwiched” at the start of her next race, the Soviet Problem, finishing ninth of 10 but had no chance after her early trouble.
“Closing Remarks is doing very, very well, and she did have a very bad trip at the end of her last race,” said Gaines, a native of Alabama (“Go Tide”) who took out her trainer’s license in 1988. “She absolutely had no place to run in the Jimmy Durante. Hopefully, she gets a better trip.
“We think Sensible Cat is definitely better on the grass, and she’s got a nice style. She can kind of sit off the pace and make a run at any stage. She’s doing very well, too.
“Westward Breeze really got annihilated at the start last out, eliminated I should say, and that was about it. (Jockey Umberto) Rispoli mentioned after that race he thought turf was her preferred surface. She’s not a very big filly and they just came over and crushed her.
“But she’s doing very well. She’s by (the Speightstown stallion) Munnings and I think the biggest question with her will be the mile. We haven’t tested her at that distance (on grass) yet.”
As to ever having three in one stake, Gaines said, “I don’t think so. I’ve run two several times but not three that I can recall.”
Call it karma, but Gaines could be on a roll. She sent out Gotta Be Lucky in Friday’s sixth race to break her maiden in her 20th career start.
The Oaks, race six: Dylans Wild Cat, Flavien Prat, 6-1; Smoothlikebuttah, Ruben Fuentes, 30-1; Super Game, Kent Desormeaux, 20-1; Warrens Candy Girl, Drayden Van Dyke, 10-1; I’m So Anna, Ricky Gonzalez, 6-1; Closing Remarks, Umberto Rispoli, 5-2; Sensible Cat, Mike Smith, 3-1; Del Mar Flash, Abel Cedillo, 15-1; Governor Goteven, Tiago Pereira, 6-1; and Westward Breeze, Juan Hernandez, 8-1.
SANTA ANITA REMEMEBERS BRUCE HEADLEY
The racing world and Santa Anita in particular today mourns the passing of Bruce Headley, who died Friday, just a month short of his 87th birthday on Feb. 17.
A no-nonsense stickler who adhered to a pristine philosophy when it came to training, Headley was born on Feb. 17, 1934, 10 months before Santa Anita opened on Christmas Day, 1934. More than eight decades later, Headley had remained close to his home away from home, Santa Anita Park.
I had one of the last interviews with Headley in his waning days at Clockers’ Corner. It appeared in Santa Anita’s Stable Notes on April 14, 2019, and as it concisely captures the essence of the man and the horseman, it seems appropriate to reprint it here in his memory:
“Headley, best remembered as the trainer of Kona Gold, is still a fixture at Santa Anita, where his Aunt Flora brought him as a kid when he was five years old.
“I saw Seabiscuit and Kayak II run here,” Headley said, referring to the winners of the 1939 and 1940 Santa Anita Handicap, trained by ‘Silent’ Tom Smith. “That’s how I got hooked on racing. My Uncle Ted was a security guard here. I was born in a house in nearby Baldwin Park that’s still there.”
Kona Gold was pure race horse. A Kentucky-bred son of Java Gold from the Slew o’ Gold dam Double Sunrise, the bay gelding owned in part by Headley won nearly half his starts, 14 of 30, with seven seconds and two thirds, earning $2,293,384.
Sold as a yearling for $35,000, he was the champion sprinter of 2000, winning an Eclipse Award that year in which he captured the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs in a dazzling 1:07.60 for six furlongs. He raced until he was nine years old.
“He could run faster than anybody and stayed sound,” Headley recalled. “He had real good bone structure. He was just an honest race horse and when he ran, he ran.
“When he got too old to race, he became a very good pony. He’d lead the horses back and forth to the track, and even though some of them had a wild brain, he knew he had a job to do and he did it.
“When he got too old to pony, I retired him to the Kentucky Horse Farm so everybody could visit him.”
Kona Gold was euthanized at the age of 15 on Sept. 25, 2009, after fracturing his left front leg while exercising in his paddock. But for Bruce Headley and others of his ilk who sanctify the equine ghosts of Santa Anita, Kona Gold lives on in perpetuity.”
SANTA ANITA HONORS MEGAHERTZ ON MONDAY
Santa Anita presents the Grade III Megahertz Stakes this holiday Monday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
A diminutive chestnut mare bred in England, Megahertz gained popularity with racing fans thanks her small size and her dramatic last-to-first running style against top company.
Trained by the late Bobby Frankel for owner Michael Bello, Megahertz was a multiple graded stakes winner who compiled a 14-6-5 record from 34 starts, earning $2,261,594.
The Megahertz is for fillies and mares four and up and will be contested at one mile on turf.
It is the seventh of nine races with a 12:30 p.m. first post time. The field: Brooke, Jeremy Laprida, 4-1; $2,000 supplemental nominee Colonial Creed, Flavien Prat, 7-2; $2,000 supplemental nominee Lucky Peridot, Abel Cedillo, 8-1; Mucho Unusual, Joel Rosario, 9-5; Ippodamia’s Girl, Juan Hernandez, 8-1; and Sedamar, Umberto Rispoli, 5-2.
LONGTIME PUBLICIST NAT WESS PASSES AT AGE 81
Nat Wess, a popular and highly respected racing publicist who began his career in racing in 1964 at Santa Anita, died Thursday at age 81 from complications related to a recent fall.
In a story written by Steve Andersen at DRF.com, Andersen reported that Wess, who retired in 2009, held a variety of jobs in racing, including management positions at Canterbury Park in Minnesota, Bay Meadows, Hollywood Park and with the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association.
As director of publicity at Hollywood Park, he oversaw the implementation of the wildly popular Two Dollar Pick Six in 1980, which helped the Inglewood oval become the first track in America to average more than $5 million in daily handle, which was bet entirely on-track.
As general manager of the CTBA, he was part of a team that developed the concept of California Cup Day, which debuted during Santa Anita’s Oak Tree Meeting in 1990.
A man of boundless energy, Wess had a love for racing and fresh outlook that enabled him to succeed wherever he went. An example of this was cited by Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman this morning on his “Thoroughbred LA” radio show.
“When I first started covering racing, Nat was the publicity director at Hollywood Park. I was still in school and very green, but he treated me like I was Jim Murray.”
Nat Wess is survived by his wife of 58 years, Ellen, children Deborah and David, and four grandchildren.
FINISH LINES: Morning Line Maker Jon White reports Bob Baffert’s Concert Tour, an impressive 3 ½ length first time maiden winner yesterday, earned an 88 Beyer Speed Figure. A Gary and Mary West homebred 3-year-old colt by Street Sense, he got six furlongs in 1:10.40 with Joel Rosario up and appears headed to the Kentucky Derby Trail…Grade I Malibu Stakes winner Charlatan, prepping for the $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 20, worked four furlongs for Baffert this morning in 50:20, while Ax Man, nominated to both next Saturday’s Grade III Palos Verdes Stakes and Sunday’s $70,000 Clockers’ Corner Stakes, went five furlongs in a bullet 58.80, fastest of 53 drills at the distance. In all there were 156 recorded workouts Saturday, 19 on the training track . . . Richard Mandella reports both Astute and United doing well with no plans for their next races. Astute finished fourth as second choice at 6-5 in the Grade I Starlet Dec. 5 at Los Alamitos, while multiple graded turf stakes winner United breezed three furlongs in 36.60 at Santa Anita last Sunday. “They’re just starting back,” Mandella said. “Astute hasn’t had a work yet, but no hurry. We’re bringing them back at their own pace. It will be another month, at least. Astute came out of the Starlet with really sore feet. We’re giving her a little rest while we’re fixing it, but she’s at the track galloping.”
NORTH COUNTY GUY HOLDS ON FOR NECK VICTORY IN $200,000 UNUSUAL HEAT TURF CLASSIC AS BALTAS & GUTIERREZ TEAM FOR 1 1/8 MILE WIN IN 1:46.34
PRESENTED BY CITY NATIONAL BANK, RACE IS PART OF CTBA’s LUCRATIVE GOLDEN STATE SERIES
ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 16, 2021)–Content to sit well off the early pace, North County Guy wheeled four-wide at the top of the stretch en route to a hard-earned neck victory in Saturday’s $200,000 Unusual Heat Turf Classic at Santa Anita. Trained by Richard Baltas and ridden by Mario Gutierrez, North County Guy, a 6-year-old gelding by The Pampelmousse, got a mile and one eighth in 1:46.34.
Presented by City National Bank, the Unusual Heat Turf Classic is part of the CTBA’s lucrative Golden State Series for eligible California-bred or sired horses.
With 70-1 longshot Cono winging on an uncontested early lead, North County Guy was a distant fifth, about 20 lengths off the lead with a half mile to run. As Cono stopped mid-way around the far turn, the entire field moved into contention, with North County Guy about three lengths off the lead at the top of the lane.
With favored Acclimate and Tyler Baze hitting the front at the quarter pole, North County Guy had about two lengths to make up with a furlong to run and he was equal to the challenge and then held off the late charge of longshot Heck Yeah.
A second condition allowance winner at today’s distance two starts back on Oct. 9, North County Guy was well beaten in the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup at a mile and one half Nov. 27. Off at 4-1 in a field of 11, North County Guy paid $10.40, $6.40 and $4.00.
Owned by Nancy Messineo and Bruce Sands, North County Guy, who is out of the Unusual Heat mare Warmth, notched his first stakes win and improved his overall mark to 28-6-7-5. With the winner’s share of $110,000, he increased his earnings to $366,647.
Heck Yeah, a three-time stakes winner at age three who seemed to have found new life on synthetic Tapeta with Golden Gate Fields-based trainer Steve Sherman, rallied to boldly to miss by a diminishing neck under Drayden Van Dyke. Off at 21-1, he paid $17.40 and $8.40.
Acclimate, the 9-5 favorite, paid $3.20 to show while finishing a half length in front of Ward ‘n Jerry.
Fractions on the race were 22.31, 44.76, 1:09.18 and 1:34.36.
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Under a well-orchestrated ride by Miguel Vasquez, 14-1 longshot Cajun Brother edged defending champion and 3-2 favorite Extravagant Kid by a neck Saturday in the Sunshine Sprint at Gulfstream Park.
Cajun Brother paid $31.60 for his first career stakes win. It was a satisfying all-in-the-family victory for trainer-owner Michael Yates, who also bred the 4-year-old gelding at his Shadybrook Farm. Yates trained and owns the sire Cajun Breeze and earned the $25,000 bonus for Florida Sire Stakes-eligible horses.
“It just looked like a place to go with him,” Yates said. “I’ve always felt he’s this caliber.”
Cajun Brother ventured out of Florida for the first time in November and ended up a well-beaten sixth in the Perryville Stakes on the Breeders’ Cup weekend program at Keeneland. Following an encouraging performance in his most recent start on Dec. 13 at Gulfstream, Yates decided to try the Sunshine Millions Sprint.
“We bit off little more than we could chew shipping to Kentucky,” Yates said. “His last race he ran a good race, a beaten third, but not far. He just progressed and trained well since. It was just the next step.”
Breaking toward the outside in the eight-horse field, Vazquez was able to put Cajun Breeze in a contending inside position right behind early leader Inter Miami, who got the first quarter in 22:32 seconds. Extravagant Kid, an 8-year-old with eight stakes victories surged into the lead along the rail on the turn. Meanwhile, Vazquez and Cajun Brother settled in the fourth spot, a couple of lengths off the pace through a half-mile in 45.69.
Extravagant Kid entered the stretch with a comfortable 1 ½-length lead, but Vazquez had already moved his horse three-wide and had him poised to make a run. Cajun Brother caught and passed Extravagant Kid inside the sixteenth pole and finished the six furlongs in 1:10.97. With Verve was third.
Cajun Brother is from the first crop of horses sired by Cajun Breeze, who was second in the 2012 Sunshine Sprint and seventh in 2013 for Yates.
”He’s throwing runners,” Yates said. “He’s a horse a man can make a living with. He throws a good athletic horse and they’re just runners. They’re nice horses.”
Midnight Bourbon Toasts Lecomte Foes
Asmussen Trainee Earns 10 Kentucky Derby Qualifying Points
New Orleans (January 16, 2021) – Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Midnight Bourbon took the lead from the start in Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots’ $200,000 Lecomte (G3) for 3-year-olds and held that position to the wire en route to a 1-length win over Proxy, who headed out heavily favored Mandaloun for the place spot. The winner amassed 10 qualifying points for Churchill Downs’ May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).
Midnight Bourbon, the second-choice at 3.70-1, and Joe Talamo broke running and took the initiative immediately in the eight-horse field, while allowed to set leisurely fractions of 24.68 and 48.99 over a stalking Proxy at 8.90-1, and 3-wide Mandaloun, who was odds-on at .80-1. Little changed off the far turn, as Talamo asked Midnight Bourbon, and the pair increased their advantage to 2 lengths, and held sway to the line, with Proxy proving a game second over Mandaloun. It was a large gap of 8 ¾ lengths back to fourth-place finisher Santa Cruiser, at 7.30-1. Midnight Bourbon covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.41 while defeating seven rivals. He boosted his career record to 5-2-1-2 with earnings of $221,420.
Midnight Bourbon was making his 3-year-old debut for trainer Steve Asmussen after an encouraging 2-year-old season that saw him hit the board in a pair of graded stakes. The son of Tiznow broke his maiden going 1 1/2 turns in his second start at Ellis Park in August, and ran a good second in Churchill’s Iroquois (G3) on Kentucky Derby Day in September before finishing his season running third in Belmont Park’s October 10 Champagne (G1). Asmussen, who won the Lecomte for the third time, was pleased with Midnight Bourbon’s freshman campaign but he was confident the best was yet to come.
“Lovely horse, he’s a beautiful individual,” Asmussen said. “Obviously he had run some solid races (at 2), but we were very much looking forward to getting him into two-turn races. His pedigree, we think that going further will help him. He’s got a beautiful stride to him. He was away nice and cleanly and Joe (jockey Talamo) gave him a nice trip.”
Midnight Bourbon began his preparation for the Lecomte in November and showed a quartet of 5-furlong works leading up to the race. The Lecomte was clearly just the starting off point to what Asmussen hopes is a big campaign, with races like the local February 13 Risen Star (G2) on Louisiana Derby Preview Day and March 20 TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) on the agenda.
“He’s going to develop into an excellent 3-year-old,” Asmussen said. “Absolutely (when asked about the Risen Star). We were very excited to get him down here (to New Orleans) and get him in this series and stuff. With him being capable of what he is away from there, the ground that he covers, I think it’s a natural fit.”
Talamo was a late replacement for jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., who took off all his Saturday mounts “because his girlfriend and baby are sick and he didn’t feel comfortable leaving Louisville for various reasons,” according to his agent Ruben Munoz.
The veteran Talamo, who was born in Marrero, just 13 miles away from Fair Grounds, was ecstatic over the ultimate catch ride.
“It felt really good (to get the mount),” Talamo said. “Just really grateful to Steve for giving me the opportunity on him. Very, very classy horse. He broke like a rocket out of there and I just tried to be a good passenger from there. He settled like a champ and when those horses came to him down the lane, he fought (them) off, and he really galloped out very, very nice.”
Godolphin’s homebred Proxy earned 4 Derby qualifying points and ran big in defeat for trainer Mike Stidham, as he was stepping up into his first stakes off a pair of local wins. The regally-bred son of Tapit broke his maiden here in November in his second career start and entered off a win in an optional-claimer December 18. Proxy won on the lead while setting slow splits in both starts, while showing some inexperience in the process, but showed a rating gear in the Lecomte, which has Stidham also looking forward to his colt’s future.
“Very, very happy with that (run),” Stidham said. “He was a little green last time and both of his wins were on the lead so he didn’t really learn a lot. But the way he dug in and held off the favorite (Mandaloun) in the end, and was getting to the winner, I couldn’t have been happier. I think the farther the better; the mile and an eighth, and the mile and 3/16ths of the Louisiana Derby is only going to help him. We needed him to do what he did today (to keep going on) and he did it.”
Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Mandaloun, who earned 2 Derby qualifying points, was a strong favorite off a pair of sprint wins in Kentucky to start his career for trainer Brad Cox. The son of Into Mischief won on debut at Keeneland in October then won an optional-claimer at Churchill November 28, but he didn’t finish as strongly while stretching out to two turns for the first time. Mandaloun sat an outside trip from a wide post under Florent Geroux but didn’t kick in as expected through the stretch.
“I was in a good stalking position, 2 or 3-wide,” Geroux said. “My options were limited. The winner just kept going. It was very close for second. The way we started, that’s the way we finished. Maybe it was the slow pace, but the horses in front of me had a better kick at the end.”
Calumet Farm’s homebred Santa Cruiser, who dueled through hot fractions when breaking his maiden in his last start November 19 at Churchill, surprisingly lagged far behind in last but did run on nicely late for trainer Keith Desormeaux. The son of Dialed In earned 1 Derby qualifying point for his effort and is another who figures to move on to the Risen Star.