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Superstar filly Songbird, who soars over her prey like a raptor, won her seventh straight race with consummate ease Saturday, taking the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks by 3 ¾ lengths, leading throughout the 1 1/16-mile race as is her wont despite breaking from the rail and running over a sloppy track.
Now, it’s on to Kentucky for the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro owned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms for her next major goal, the $1 million Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 6.
“Songbird came out of the race in perfect order,” Jerry Hollendorfer said on an overcast but rain-free Sunday morning at Santa Anita, where it was business as usual for the Hall of Fame trainer, assistant Dan Ward, and their team, despite the fact that the main track was closed for training for the second straight morning due to a spate of rain that had begun early Thursday morning but abated to typical Southern California status Sunday, sunshine and all.
“She seems very good this morning,” Hollendorfer went on. “We have to wait to make shipping plans because there will be a lot of horses going back and forth at that time (for the Kentucky Derby May 7 and the Oaks).
“We’ll try and make the most advantageous arrangements. Songbird will stay here and likely have her last work at Santa Anita before the Oaks and then ship.”
Many in yesterday’s on-track crowd of 27,821, obviously diminished due to rainy weather that resulted in a “sloppy” but sealed main track throughout the 12-race program, came to see Songbird, who is joining Zenyatta, California Chrome and American Pharoah as recent fan magnets in a game that welcomes them like a bettor treasures a Pick Six score.
“She has a pretty good fan base,” Hollendorfer said of last year’s Eclipse Award winner as champion two-year-old filly who has won her races by an average margin of more than five lengths. “We’re very pleased about that.
“A lot of the horses from California are doing pretty good right now, so we’ll see what happens in Kentucky.”
John Keith Desormeaux and Kent Desormeaux are down home guys from Louisiana, far removed from Philadelphia, the so-called City of Brotherly Love, but if the brothers make it to Kentucky with Exaggerator on May 7, everything will be, um, relative, when they take on the likes of champion Nyquist and 18 others in the 142nd Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Keith was realistic bordering on ecstatic this morning discussing Exaggerator’s 6 ¼-length triumph in the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby Saturday, earning the son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.
“Here’s a news flash,” Keith said by phone after attending church, a Sunday ritual: “Everything looks good this morning. I said after he was third in the San Felipe that maybe the reasons he didn’t finish were that maybe he was a miler, maybe it was one of those crazy bounce theories, but not now.
“I think his impressive win can be attributed to a combination of several things: his fitness, his pedigree, but most of all, his demeanor before the race. He’s never been a fidgety horse, but yesterday before the race he was calm and never turned a hair.”
Kent, at 46 three years younger than Keith, enjoyed a banner day, winning two other stakes, the Grade III Providencia on Decked Out trained by Keith and the Grade III Thunder Road on What a View, conditioned by Kenny Black.
Overall, horses Kent rode Saturday earned $759,910, boosting his meet total to $2,512,694.
Said Keith said of his kid brother, a member of racing’s Hall of Fame and a three-time winner of the Run for the Roses, with Real Quiet (1998), Fusaichi Pegasus (2000) and Big Brown (2008): “He just keeps coming back.”
Trainer Cliff Sise Jr. said Danzing Candy came out of his fourth-place finish after leading past the three-quarter mark in the 1 1/8-mile race in good order but had “no plans” on what might be next for the son of the San Felipe Stakes winner.
Trainer Gary Sherlock had no word the next race for Uncle Lino, who outran his odds in the Santa Anita Derby by finishing third at 26-1, other than “he won’t run in the Kentucky Derby.”
Sise called Exaggerator’s powerful rush from next to last after a half mile to a runaway victory in the Santa Anita Derby “an Arazi-type move.”
Meanwhile, in the What-Have-You-Done-For-Me-Lately Department, Brian Beach, agent for Victor Espinoza, winner of five of the last six Triple Crown races who was seventh, beaten 37 ½ lengths on Smokey Image in the Santa Anita Derby, said his rider is “now officially open in the Kentucky Derby.”
FINISH LINES: Trainer Richard Baltas, who saddled Mokat to a runner-up finish behind Songbird in the Santa Anita Oaks: “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Songbird is a champion. We ran into a horse that’s a true champion, it’s that simple. There aren’t many like her, and you can say the same the same thing about Nyquist. “We’re in a year where we have two juvenile champions and they’re both going into the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby undefeated. It’s very exciting. Mokat ran her race and we’re very happy running second to Songbird. Flavien (Prat) said she wasn’t really handling the track, so if she comes back good, we’ll try Songbird one more time in the Kentucky Oaks.” . . .Congrats to Peruvian sensation Rafael Bejarano, who entered today’s card with 74 wins, enabling him to win his fourth consecutive Winter Meet riding title and his seventh overall. Along with his seven Golden Whip Awards, Bejarano, dating back to 2007, now has a staggering 26 Southern California riding titles to his credit . . . Phil D’Amato, on winning his first-ever training title: “It’s an honor, and I have to give a lot of the credit to my owners and my crew. Without the horses, I couldn’t do this. I have a great bunch of hard-working members of my staff, from my assistants down to my grooms. Everything’s jelled and they get just as much credit for the success as I do.” . . . Congrats to Jesus Camacho on winning the Men’s Division of Santa Anita’s 5K Derby Day run Saturday in the time of 21:09 over runner-up Aaron Galvan, and Lulu Joko in 29.09 over Christine Beer in the Women’s Division . . . Santa Anita’s 63-day Winter Meet ends today. Live racing returns to The Great Race Place May 5 and runs through July 10.
Source: Santa Anita Park
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