MOR SPIRIT IN ‘WILLING’ WORK FOR SANTA ANITA DERBY
Mor Spirit, No. One on Bob Baffert’s Triple Crown Hit Parade, worked four furlongs on a sun-kissed Thursday morning in 47.80, breezing, for the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 9.
Working after the 8:45 a.m. renovation break in company with Hoffenheim, who was clocked in 48 seconds flat, the at-times recalcitrant Mor Spirit worked under Martin Garcia outside of his stablemate and was timed in 35.40 for three furlongs, with a five furlong gallop-out time of a minute flat.
“He went really nice,” Baffert said of the son of Eskendereya, a beneficial second behind Danzing Candy in the San Felipe Stakes on March 12. “He was a willing participant today, which is good.”
Also working Thursday morning for the 79th Santa Anita Derby was San Felipe fourth-place finisher Uncle Lino for Gary Sherlock with Fernando Perez aboard. The son of Uncle Mo was clocked in 47.80 after the first renovation break at 6:45 a.m.
Trainer Cliff Sise Jr. said San Felipe winner Danzing Candy is scheduled to work five furlongs under Mike Smith Saturday morning at 9 a.m.
MICHAEL WRONA NAMED SANTA ANITA TRACK ANNOUNCER
Michael Wrona, the colorful and seasoned Australian race caller, has been named the full-time track announcer at Santa Anita Park. A 49-year-old native of Queensland, Australia, Wrona began his announcing career at age 17 in his homeland. He has spent 25 years in the United States and has been the voice of Golden Gate Fields for the last decade.
The announcement comes after auditions by Wrona, veteran Frank Mirahmadi, and international announcers Craig Evans and David Fitzgerald. Mirahmadi alternated the Santa Anita announcing duties with Wrona since the season began last Dec. 26, while Evans and Fitzgerald were finalists from a world-wide search that included over three dozen candidates.
“This was a much harder decision than anyone could have imagined,” said Joe Morris, SVP of West Coast Operations for The Stronach Group. “The finalists presented us with four incredible options, each a world-class announcer in his own right.
“In the end, as we said from the beginning, we listened to our fans, our horsemen, the media and our employees. It was an exceptionally close decision, but Michael just raised his game here at Santa Anita. We are honored to welcome him to the historic fabric of The Great Race Place. He has earned the right to make that booth his own.”
“I’m overjoyed and humbled that Santa Anita is entrusting me with a booth occupied by so few announcers in the track’s storied history,” said Wrona. “I shall try my utmost to honor the great legacy of my predecessors, each of whom was of the highest caliber. I would also like to acknowledge the unwavering support and friendship of the Golden Gate Fields management, since I first worked there in 1992.”
Santa Anita has only had four primary track announcers since it opened in 1934, though others have filled in throughout the years. Wrona will continue to call Santa Anita’s races through the end of the Winter/Spring season on April 10, including the $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 9. He will begin his full-time position on Thursday, May 5, when Santa Anita opens its Spring/Summer Meeting.
“While we are pleased to welcome Michael as the next Voice of The Great Race Place, this opportunity also showcased three very gifted announcers in Frank, Craig and David,” Morris added. “We encourage them to continue to seek opportunities within The Stronach Group as they become available and we look forward to the chance to work with them.”
Wrona’s replacement at Golden Gate Fields will be named in the upcoming weeks and will begin in early May.
JEFF LUKAS, SON OF D.WAYNE LUKAS, DEAD AT 58
The racing industry and Santa Anita in particular Thursday mourned the passing of Jeff Lukas who died Wednesday in Oklahoma at the age of 58.
Jeff, the only child of legendary Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, suffered a disabling accident in 1993 when he was run over by Tabasco Cat while an assistant to his father in Santa Anita’s barn area.
Lukas told Daily Racing Form his son’s death was probably heart-related.
“It’s just a sad day,” said Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, who won the Kentucky Derby twice for the elder Lukas, now 80, on Winning Colors in 1988 and Thunder Gulch in 1995. “It was a sad day when Jeff suffered that injury, and it feels the same way this morning.
“My heart goes out to Wayne and the whole family . . . It’s a really sad day and I know he’s in a good place now. God rest his soul.”
Said trainer Gary Sherlock: “Jeff was a great horseman. I think he would have succeeded Wayne, until he got hurt. That ruined his life. He was a good guy and a nice guy, but he also was a really good horseman.”
Added Santa Anita Racing Director Mike Lakow: “Jeff was one of the sharpest people I ever worked with, one of the sharpest guy’s I’ve ever been around. When I worked in New York he taught me so much in my job as stakes coordinator.
“I learned as much from Jeff as I did from anybody in the industry.”
NANCY FROM NAIROBI EYES THIRD IN ROW SATURDAY
John Sadler is hopeful Nancy From Nairobi continues her winning ways in Saturday’s Grade II, $200,000 Santa Ana Stakes for older fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on turf.
The five-year-old English-bred mare owned by Hronis Racing has won her last two starts but seeks her first U.S. stakes win in the Santa Ana.
“She’s coming off an impressive win,” said Sadler, who will give Abel Lezcano a leg up on the daughter of Sixties Icon for the fifth straight race in this country. “I had seen him ride at Los Al, and he looked really good, so I put him on a couple horses,” Sadler said. “We’ve done real well together. He won on Nancy From Nairobi twice and three other horses for me, and was second on Hard Aces in the Santa Anita Handicap.
“He looked like he could ride and he’s ridden well.”
The Santa Ana, race five of 11: Her Emmynency, Joe Talamo, 2-1; Nancy From Nairobi, Abel Lezcano, 5-2; Nashoba’s Gold, Rafael Bejarano, 10-1; Fresh Feline, Alex Solis, 8-1; Glory, Mike Smith, 7-2; and Tuttipaesi, Chris DeCarlo, 3-1.
FINISH LINES: Trainer David Hofmans said Thursday Santa Anita Handicap winner Melatonin would make his next start in either the Grade II Charles Town Classic at 1 1/8 miles on April 23 or the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on April 16 . . . Three-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder could make her first career start on the turf in the $200,000, Grade II Royal Heroine Stakes on opening day of Santa Anita’s Summer Meet, Thursday, May 5. “It would be there or the Adoration Stakes (Grade II, $100,000 at 1 1/16 miles on dirt May 8), one of the two,” Richard Mandella said Thursday morning. “She’s never run on turf but the Royal Heroine is worth $100,000 more.” Beholder’s long-range objective is the Grade I Vanity Mile on June 4 . . . Effective today, agent J.R. Pegram will represent three-time Kentucky Derby winner and Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, replacing Mike Ciani, who had booked Desormeaux on 17 winners which had earned $1,499,610 in purse money through Sunday of this meet. Pegram will retain Edwin Maldonado, enjoying a strong meet with 33 victories through 51 days, while no longer representing apprentice David Lopez, who loses his five-pound weight allowance at midnight, April 11 . . . John Sadler has older female champion of 2015 Stellar Wind set to have her first breeze Saturday or Monday since finishing an eventful second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff last Oct. 30. “It will be one of those days,” the trainer said. “I’m still tweaking the schedule.” . . . Santiago Gonzalez is expected to miss six weeks after suffering a broken jaw and an ailing right leg when his mount, Follini, appeared to clip heels in Sunday’s fifth race. Gonzalez was second to Rafael Bejarano through Sunday, trailing the perennial Southern California kingpin, 60-47 . . . Champion Songbird worked five furlongs Wednesday in 59.60, breezing, for the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks on April 9. Her fractional times were 23.80, 36 flat and 48 flat, with a six furlong gallop out time of 1:12.20 . . . Trainer Simon Callaghan said Thursday that La Canada winner Taris, second in the Santa Margarita at 1 1/8 miles last Saturday, will make her next start in the Grade I Humana Distaff Stakes at seven furlongs May 7 at Churchill Downs . . . Santa Anita morning line oddsmaker Jon White will be Tom Quigley’s guest Saturday, and Jon Hardoon of The Ragozin Sheets Sunday, both days 11:20 a.m. in the East Paddock Gardens.
Source: Santa Anita Park