Track Reports

Santa Anita Stable Notes: Mor Spirit Remains Candidate for San Felipe, Chrome Easy Prep in Dubai

California Chrome winning Grade II, $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes - Photo Credit: Melanie Martines
Melanie Martines

Mor Spirit, who was eased in a workout on Tuesday, remains a candidate for the San Felipe Stakes on March 12 pending his next workout, Bob Baffert said Thursday morning.

“I think I’m going to breeze him now on Sunday, and I’ll know more,” the trainer said of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner, his leading Triple Crown contender.

“We over-thought it a little bit,” Baffert said, speaking of the aborted drill. “Sometimes I work him with earplugs and sometimes I don’t. I don’t want him to do that much. He has them on when he leaves the paddock, then we take them out before he goes to the gate. It keeps him calm.

“He just lost interest (Tuesday); he’ll do that, but he’s all right.”

The San Felipe is a Grade II race at 1 1/16 miles with a $400,000 purse and is a major steppingstone to the $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 9.

On whether Hoppertunity will run in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 12 or the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 26, Bob Baffert will “probably know more next week. We’re still trying to make the World Cup,” the trainer said Thursday morning.

“I’m trying to see how the field is shaping up and how he’s doing. He’s slowly coming along from his win in the San Antonio (Feb. 6). He worked really nice Tuesday (five furlongs in 1:00.40). I liked the way he worked, and I don’t want to go to Dubai unless I know I can win it.”

The Big Cap lost one potential starter in Follow Me Crev, winner of his last four races for Vladimir Cerin, at 30 percent, the top trainer in that category among the meet’s leaders.

“I’m going to skip the race,” Cerin said of the Big Cap Thursday morning. “The horse has a quarter crack that I haven’t been able to patch up.”

Lucky J Lane should move forward from his last race when he runs in Saturday’s $100,000 Sensational Star Stakes for older horses at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf.

The five-year-old Lucky J.H. gelding was third on Feb. 7 in his first race since late last August, so Richard Baltas expects a natural progression in the Golden Sate Series race that drew 11 starters.

“He’s fresh now,” Baltas said. “He’s ready to run. They don’t write these Cal-bred stakes very often. I’m shortening him up, so it will be interesting to see how he runs.”

In 15 career starts, Lucky J Lane has sprinted only once, going six furlongs on Hollywood’s Cushion Track in November of 2013, finishing fifth by nearly nine lengths. He has a 4-3-1 record in 13 turf starts.

The Sensational Star: Image of Joplin, Agapito Delgadillo, 30-1; Solid Wager, Victor Espinoza, 15-1; Aotearoa, Drayden Van Dyke, 15-1; Pay the Fine, Mario Gutierrez, 20-1; Lucky J Lane, Santiago Gonzalez, 8-1; McHeat, Fernando Perez, 6-1; Forest Chatter, Mike Smith, 5-2; Richard’s Boy, Flavien Prat, 6-1; Alert Bay, Martin Garcia, 4-1; Boozer, Gary Stevens, 6-1; and Poshky, Joe Talamo, 10-1.

Sunday’s featured Joe Hernandez Stakes, for older horses at 6 ½ furlongs down the Camino Real Turf Course, is named in honor of Santa Anita’s first-ever announcer, Joe Hernandez, who never missed a day’s work during his tenure, calling 15,587 races in a row.

Hired by Dr. Charles H. Strub as Santa Anita’s opening day announcer on Dec. 25, 1934, Hernandez served as the original Voice of Santa Anita from that point until he collapsed from internal bleeding while calling a race on Jan. 27, 1972. Hernandez would die several days later, on Feb. 2, 1972, at age 62.

(Hernandez, who also toiled as a bloodstock agent, was kicked in the chest by horse at Hollywood Park on the morning of Jan. 27, and although in distress, insisted upon reporting to duty that afternoon at Santa Anita).

One of the most highly respected announcers of his era, Hernandez was revered for his accuracy and his ability to capture the equine and human drama unfolding beneath him. His legendary, “There they go,” will forever live on as his signature description of horses leaving the starting gate.

Perhaps no call more graphically illustrated Hernandez’s mastery of his craft than his call of Hall of Fame jockey Johnny Longden’s final race, the 1966 San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap. Off at 6-1, Canadian-bred George Royal was last early in the mile and three quarter turf marathon and prevailed after a stirring stretch drive by a nose over Plaque, who was ridden by future Hall of Famer Bobby Ussery.

Broadcast live in 17 western markets, Hernandez correctly sensed that the combined massive on-track and television audience was riveted by the fact this race was “The Pumper’s” final dance and he gave them what they yearned for, detailing Longden’s bold move around the far turn and, in a decision that broke with California racing custom, declared George Royal the winner by a nose.

Known for his gravelly voice, rhythmic cadence, quick wit and disarming smile, Hernandez had been a sportswriter when he landed his first announcing job at Tanforan, which was located in the San Francisco Bay Area. A keen judge of horseflesh, his most notable achievement as a bloodstock agent was the importation of Chilean-bred Cougar II, who was trained by Charlie Whittingham and who won the 1971 San Juan Capistrano Handicap, the 1973 Santa Anita Handicap, and would go on to Hall of Fame induction.

A bronze bust of Joe Hernandez was dedicated on Dec. 26, 1974, and overlooks Santa Anita’s Paddock Gardens area adjacent to the track’s Kingsbury Fountain.

California Chrome had what amounted to a paid workout at Meydan Race Course Thursday, romping home first by two lengths in a prep for the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 26. He carried 132.2 pounds, while his rivals toted approximately 117, and covered the mile and a quarter in 2:04.32.

“It was easy,” regular rider Victor Espinoza said after the race, in which the 2014 Horse of the Year was third most of the way until taking command into the stretch.

“The way he looks is the way he ran. I didn’t want to overdo it with him today. It’s a short period of time from now until the next race. I didn’t want to empty the tank today. He went nice and comfortable. I was able to get a good position into the first turn and from then on, it was pretty much him all by himself.

Asked if he thought California Chrome was better than he was 12 months ago, Espinoza said, “Believe it or not, that’s true. When he’s feeling good, he comes out of the gate like a rocket. That’s a good sign. He’s back to his normal energy . . . like he was before.”

Added trainer Art Sherman:

“(This was) A perfect race. We were very satisfied. Now I feel good about the $10 million race coming up. They’ve got a lot of good horses running.

I would have to think this was a perfect prep. That mile and a quarter under his belt now, he’s going to be double-tough I think (in the World Cup).

Asked what running against the likes of Keen Ice, Frosted, etc. will mean: “It’s great. If we can ever get lucky enough, he’ll wind up being the richest Thoroughbred ever. He’ll pass Curlin, who was a great Thoroughbred. It would be an honor for that to happen.”

FINISH LINES: Trainer John Sadler, on Victor Espinoza being named the 67th winner of Santa Anita’s 2016 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award: “It’s great. It’s well-deserved. I’m surprised he hasn’t won it before.” . . . This from Rick Porter, owner of Fox Hill Farm, confirming Songbird’s next start in the Santa Ysabel Stakes March 5: “Jerry Hollendorfer and I have decided to run in the Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita on March 5th. This will give us a month between the Las Virgenes and the Santa Anita Oaks. This should fit just right for the Kentucky Oaks without any hiccups. I always worry about hiccups but that is part of this exhilarating sport.” . . . Champion Nyquist is “doing super” as he prepares for his next start. “Our direction is still the Florida Derby (April 2),” trainer Doug O’Neill said. “We’re really happy with where we’re at right now. He might have a little leg stretch this weekend.”

Source: Santa Anita Park

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