ARCADIA, Calif. (March 12, 2016)—In his first-ever try in graded stakes competition on the main track, longshot Melatonin made it look easy in taking Saturday’s 79th running of the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Handicap presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in gate to wire fashion under Joe Talamo. Owned by Tarabilla Farms and trained by David Hofmans, the 5-year-old gelding by Kodiak Kowboy won the Big ’Cap by 4 ¼ lengths while covering the mile and a quarter distance in 2:02.01.
Fresh off a 3 ¾ length allowance win going a mile and a sixteenth on Feb. 5, Talamo and his agent, Scott McClellan, lobbied forcefully for a chance to try the deep waters of “The Granddaddy of Them All” on Saturday.
“Joe was instrumental in running in this race,” said Hofmans, who, along with Talamo, won his first career Big ’Cap. “Joe and his agent were insistent that we go. After his last race, he said we have to run here. Joe was convinced after his last race. He said he loves this track, he’s so strong and he had so much horse left, I think he wants to run even farther, and I was convinced he was a miler.
“I breezed him seven eighths the other day with Joe and was convinced to go here. Without California Chrome (who is committed to run later in the month in the Dubai World Cup), it opened up. We expected to be on the lead.”
Off at 16-1, Melatonin paid $34.60, $13.80 and $6.00. The Big ’Cap represented his fourth win from 11 career starts and with the winner’s share of $600,000, he increased his earnings to $768,552.
“What a tremendous effort,” said Talamo. “I think I need some Melatonin right now to calm down from it…We had a great trip and he broke real sharp. I just put him up there and fortunately he was going so easily. When I got to the first turn, they backed off him a bit so I was able to give him a breather and he opened up turning for home.
“I told Elizabeth (wife) when I left for the track today that I thought we had a big chance. I didn’t think we’d win like that but it was pretty exciting…Ever since coming to California, aside from winning the Santa Anita Derby, this was a huge, huge goal of mine. This is one of the biggest races in California and to do it at Santa Anita in front of a crowd (27,259) like this, it’s just icing on the cake.”
Ridden by Abel Lezcano, Hard Aces rallied stoutly late to tag favored Effinex by a half length for the place. Off at 22-1, Hard Aces paid $19.20 and $7.20.
Effinex, who was second to American Pharoah in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic Oct. 31 and who had been idle since winning the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs Nov. 27, was well poised in second position, a half length off the winner a quarter mile from home, but lacked the necessary rally and finished third under Mike Smith.
Off at 7-5, Effinex paid $2.80 to show.
“He ran great,” said Smith, who had won the last three Big ’Caps, dating back to 2013 with Game On Dude. “That was his first race back in just over three months…Going a mile and a quarter. I mean, that was impressive…He got to them but by the three eighths pole I felt him take a big breath and once he got his air, he didn’t put his head back down and take off again!”
Ridden by Mario Gutierrez, Donworth, who was the second choice in the wagering at 5-2, was rank throughout and ran up on the heels of the winner around the far turn, resulting in a stewards’ inquiry. After a brief review, it was determined Donworth, who finished seventh, had caused his own trouble and the original order of finish was confirmed.
Fractions on the race were 22.82, 46.28, 1:10.81 and 1:36.47.
JOE TALAMO, MELATONIN, WINER: “What a tremendous effort. I think I need some Melatonin right now to calm down from it. Dave and everyone involved are so high on this horse and his confidence coming out of that last race has really only gotten better, working-wise. We had a great trip, he broke real sharp and I just put him up there and fortunately he was going so easily. When I got to the first turn, they backed off him a bit so I was able to give him a breather and he opened up turning for home. I was pretty excited.
“You don’t really know until you try the distance and I didn’t think it was going to be a problem. Last time he made the lead pretty early and he kind of started to wait on horses and that’s when I knew I still had horse left. He’s a fun horse to ride, I’m just so grateful for the opportunity.
“His race last time was just so impressive to me. He was sprinting, he was running on turf but he just impressed me the way he did it. He won by over three and it was even easier than it looked so we’d thought we’d take a shot today.
“It means so much to win this race. I told Elizabeth when I left for the track today that I thought we had a big chance. I didn’t think we’d win like that but it was pretty exciting.
“This is huge. I had goose bumps when I crossed the wire. Ever since coming to California, aside from winning the Santa Anita Derby, this was a huge, huge goal of mine. This is one of the biggest races in California and to do it at Santa Anita in front of a crowd like this, is just icing on the cake.
“I felt Mario clip heels with me but I was more surprised, there wasn’t much room in there. I wasn’t aware that he was having any trouble with his horse, I was more concerned about Rafael (Bejarano, aboard General a Rod). It wasn’t a hard hit. It’s not like it stopped Melatonin’s stride or anything. I felt a little something though.”
ABEL LEZCANO, HARD ACES, SECOND: “I thought we were taking that last turn really well, up towards the front we were really slowing down which didn’t make me too happy. Coming out I provoked him a bit, got him going and was able to maintain good speed but in the end it wasn’t enough.
“I am very happy to have gotten to race this horse and especially thankful to John Sadler who allowed me to ride his horse. This is a great team and I am thankful for everyone’s hard work.”
MIKE SMITH, EFFINEX, THIRD: “He ran great. That was his first race in just over three months . . . going a mile and a quarter. I mean, that was impressive. You can’t ask for much better. That’s all it was and that’s what it felt like. He got to them and I thought we had them, but by the three-eighths pole I felt him take a big breath and once he got his air he didn’t put his head back down and take off again!
“I went, ‘Oh no, he’s tired!’ But then I thought that sprinter will stop but that son of a . . . didn’t stop. I needed Effinex to stop and take a break and then fight on but then when Melatonin took off I knew we’d have to get him next time.”
MARIO GUTIERREZ, DONWORTH: “It was a rough trip. It was just a tough trip, that’s all.”
DAVID HOFMANS, MELATONIN, WINNER: “Joe (Talamo) was instrumental in running in this race. Joe and his agent, Scotty (McClellan) were insistent that we go. After his last race he said we have to run here. Joe was convinced after his last race. He said he loves this race track, he’s so strong and he had so much horse left, I think he wants to run even farther, and I was convinced he was a miler.
“I breezed him seven-eighths the other day with Joe and was convinced to go here. Without California Chrome, it opened it up. We expected to be on the lead.
“We’re going to San Manuel (Indian Bingo & Casino to celebrate). The hell with Disneyland.
“As for the horse, we’ll see how he comes out it and what shakes and go from there.”
Asked if this win was bigger than Alphabet Soup winning the 1996 Breeders’ Cup Classic: “I don’t know; right there, right there.”
DOUG O’NEILL, DONWORTH, SEVENTH: “Bad training. He was rank. You just have to blame me on that one. Mario did a great job. They were flying and he was trying to get him to settle.”
NOTES: The winning owner is Susan Osborne of Glendale, CA, who races as Tarabilla Farms, Inc.
Source: Santa Anita Park