News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.
BIG CAP HEADLINES BLOCKBUSTER DAY AT SANTA ANITA
While Saturday’s Grade I, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks seems a solitary audition for dynamic 3-year-old filly Stardom Bound’s projected date with the boys in next month’s Santa Anita Derby, the 72nd running of the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap is plainly bursting with diversity and depth.
Fourteen horses, bred in five different countries, were entered in Santa Anita’s signature event at 1 ¼ miles. The cast includes eight Grade or Group I winners who are coming out of eight different graded stakes raced from coast-to-coast over surfaces ranging from grass to dirt to synthetics.
Eastern invader Einstein, a Brazilian-bred turf specialist with earnings of over $1.6 million, was assigned high weight of 121 pounds. The seven-year-old will be making his West Coast debut and his first start over a synthetic surface when testing Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride footing.
The complete field for the Santa Anita Handicap, in post position order, is: Matto Mondo (jockey: Rafael Bejarano, morning line odds: 6-1); Cowboy Cal (John Velazquez, 5-1); Heroi Do Bafra (Michael Baze, 30-1); Monba (Edgar Prado, 15-1); Colonel John (Garrett Gomez, 9-2); Magnum (Joel Rosario, 12-1); Blue Exit (Robby Albarado, 12-1); Einstein (Julien Leparoux, 6-1); Dansant (Tyler Baze, 20-1); Cause (Jon Court, 30-1); Court Vision (Ramon Dominguez, 6-1); Zambezi Sun (Victor Espinoza, 12-1); Champs Elysees (Jose Valdivia, Jr., 12-1); and Stream Cat (Alex Solis, 20-1).
The Santa Anita Handicap will be one of three Grade I stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday, along with the Santa Anita Oaks and Frank E. Kilroe Mile.
Nine 3-year-old fillies were entered to oppose Stardom Bound, the 2008 champion 2-year-old filly who will be seeking her fifth straight Grade I victory in the 70th running of the mile-and-one-sixteenth Santa Anita Oaks. Purchased for $5.7 million following her victory in last October’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Michael Iavarone, who heads the IEAH partnership, promptly put the Santa Anita Derby and a date with the boys, on the new ownership group’s agenda.
Provided she will be turned to the Santa Anita Derby and a possible encounter with Pioneerof the Nile and The Pamplemousse on April 4. Winning Colors, the last filly to have won the Kentucky Derby in 1988, also used the Santa Anita Derby as the springboard to Kentucky.
Bobby Frankel, who trains Stardom Bound, will send the 5-year-old mare Ventura against males when facing eleven opponents in Saturday’s 50th running of the Frank E. Kilroe Mile on grass. The homebred daughter of Chester House twice defeated males in England. With national riding leader Garrett Gomez aboard, Ventura is coming off wins in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and Santa Anita’s Grade I Santa Monica Handicap.
AQUEDUCT’S GOTHAM OFFERS KEY TEST FOR DERBY HOPEFULS
The New York-bred Haynesfield will shoot for his fourth straight stakes wins in Saturday’s 57th running of the Grade III, $250,000 Gotham Stakes for three-year-olds at a mile and a sixteenth over the inner track at Aqueduct in Ozone Park, N.Y.
Although the Gotham represents a big step up in class to graded stakes competition for Haynesfield, Toby Sheets, the New York-based assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen, says the colt is training well and expects he will be a contender.
“He’s stepping up and it’s different competition, but that’s the name of the game,” he said. “More money means better horses. I think he fits at this point and he hasn’t proven otherwise. I’m very happy about where I’m at with
Haynesfield’s competition is talented and diverse. Of the field of nine, two horses have run only on synthetic surfaces and three others are stretching out to a two-turn race for the first time.
One of those making an initial attempt at two turns is Imperial Council, but Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey believes the extra distance will suit the Empire Maker colt.
“I look forward to running him two turns,” McGaughey said. “I think what we’ve been doing with him, sprinting, isn’t what he wants to do naturally, so I don’t think the distance will be a problem.”
Imperial Council has come from off the pace to win his last two starts, including a good-looking two-length victory in allowance company at Gulfstream.
Trying dirt for the first time is I Want Revenge, who ran second to Pioneerof the Nile at a mile and a sixteenth over Hollywood Park’s cushion track in the Grade I CashCall Futurity last December and finished a close third behind Pioneerof the Nile again last month at Santa Anita in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes over Pro-Ride. The near misses are impressive given Pioneerof the Nile’s present status as one of the most fancied Derby prospects in America. He will be ridden by his regular pilot, Joe Talamo, who comes East for the mount.
“Joe thought he didn’t get a hold of the synthetic that well and might do better on dirt,” said David Lanzman, owner of I Want Revenge. “We might as well find out now, sooner than later.”
Another talented New York-bred in the field is the undefeated Mr. Fantasy, who is perfect in two starts including a gate-to-wire victory at a mile and a sixteenth in allowance company in his last start.
“He is a very nice horse, and a very fast horse according to the sheets,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “But, you don’t really know who he has beaten yet, what the level of competition has been. Having said that, he has done everything we’ve asked of him so far and done it easily. He even won from post 10 last time out. The Gotham will be a big test for him because he is going to face tougher and even more seasoned horses.”
The Gotham Stakes, along with the co-featured Toboggan Handicap for older sprinters, will be part of a special $250,000-guaranteed late Pick Four wager at Aqueduct.
BARBARO’S FULL BROTHER NICANOR SET FOR SECOND TRY
Barbaro’s baby brother Nicanor will make his second attempt at finding the winner’s circle Saturday when he tackles a field of nine other 3-year-olds in the eighth race at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla. The seven-furlong contest on the dirt is a maiden race for horses that have never won.
Nicanor is owned by the Lael Stables of Roy and Gretchen Jackson and is trained by Michael Matz. Those are the same connections that campaigned Barbaro, the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby winner who was injured in the 2006 Preakness and later died from complications of laminitis the following January.
Nicanor’s development has been followed closely by the legions of Barbaro fans, and his January 31 debut, which resulted in a 10th-place finish, disappointed many. However, Nicanor kicked himself just after leaving the starting gate in that race, suffering minor cuts that may have compromised his performance. Michael Matz has pronounced the three-year-old son of Dynaformer fully healed and ready for his second start.
Edgar Prado, who rode Barbaro and who also rode Nicanor in his first race, will be at Santa Anita on Saturday, so Jose Lezcano will instead have the mount.
NTRA RELEASES SCHEDULE OF NHC QUALIFYING TOURNEYS IN 2009
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) and Daily Racing Form (DRF) have announced today the year-long schedule of qualifying events for the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) which carries an estimated total purse of $1 million.
The schedule (subject to changes and additions) is comprised of 101 events hosted at 42 different racetracks, off-track wagering facilities, Websites and casinos. Competitions are scheduled to take place now through late December. A full list of NHC qualifying dates and venues can be viewed at www.ntra.com/nhctour. Approximately 300 NHC qualifyiing berths will be available via the qualifiers and the NHC Tour.
Highlighting the qualifying schedule are four NHC “Superqualifiers” to be held on July 4-5 (Red Rock Casino, $75,000 estimated purse, three NHC seats available), August 29 (Monmouth Park, $100,000 estimated purse, six NHC seats), November 6-7 (Breeders’ Cup Online Tourney, $100,000 estimated purse, six NHC seats) and December 26-27 (Del Mar Surfside, $125,000 estimated purse, six NHC seats). All four Superqualifiers will permit at least two entries per person and are restricted to NHC Tour members. Each Superqualifier features extra large purses and/or extra NHC qualifying seats.
Registrations for the 2009 NHC Tour, a year-long bonus series, are being accepted at www.ntra.com/nhctour. The registration fee is $125.
The NHC Tour offers additional prize money and qualifying berths to the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC). The NHC Tour is open only to officially registered contestants and results are based on performances at NHC qualifying events throughout the year. During the 2009 NHC qualifying year, there are also five free, online tournaments restricted to NHC Tour members, including a special “maiden” event on December 19 for non-NHC qualifiers in 2009. The first free NHC Tour tourney took place on February 28. The others will take place surrounding the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby (May 1-2), the Travers Stakes (Aug. 29) and the Thanksgiving weekend stakes action (Nov. 27-28).
At the end of the year’s qualifying events, the overall NHC Tour point leader will receive a bonus of $100,000. Should the overall NHC Tour winner go on to capture first place in the January 2010 NHC finals (NHC XI), he or she will receive a $2 million bonus.
“The 2008 NHC Tour year attracted more than 900 participants, and this year we hope to attract at least 1,000,” said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president for the NTRA. “We’ve made several improvements based on feedback from our players, and we believe the Tour’s new format will do an even better job of rewarding our top finishers.”