ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 30, 2016)—Unbeaten Smokey Image, in his first try around two turns, annihilated six California-bred rivals en route to a 8 ½ length win in Saturday’s $250,000 California Cup Derby at Santa Anita. Ridden for the first time by Victor Espinoza and trained for the first time Carla Gaines, the California-bred colt by Southern Image got a mile and a sixteenth in 1:43.49 and no-doubt stamped himself a ticket to the Kentucky Derby trail in his next start.
Breaking from post position two, Smokey Image easily out-footed Glory Bound to the first turn and set comfortable fractions of 23.49, 47.48 and 1:11.63. Replay
“He reminds me of California Chrome!” said Espinoza. “I was expecting him to run a big race today. I worked him the other day and he worked unbelievably. I was very impressed. For me, I don’t look at it like Cal-bred or not. I just look at him and ask where he has potential…The way he ran today, he showed me that he can go the distance and he showed me that he can run with any horse, Cal-bred or not…Hopefully, I can get my next (fourth) Kentucky Derby.”
Off at 2-5, Smokey Image paid $2.80, $2.40 and $2.10.
“It looks like he did two turns well, right?” said Gaines, who took over training Smokey Image from Northern California-based Greg James following his most recent win at Del Mar on Oct. 30. “My first impression was that he was just a very, very nice horse. You know what? Greg James and his assistant, Mary, did a tremendous job with this horse. Really, I just took over the reins.”
Owned by Betty Irvin’s Irvin Racing Stable, Smokey Image, who is out of the Free House mare, Special Smoke, notched his perfect sixth win and picked up $137,500 for the win, increasing his earnings to $435,100.
“We’ll evaluate the calendar and see what he’s ready for, but certainly his performance today indicated we might have something more special,” said Irvin’s daughter, Diane Irvin, who serves as her racing manager. “After my dad passed (last year), I took over.”
Tough It Out, who was ridden by Santiago Gonzalez, rallied from last to be second, finishing 6 ¼ lengths in front of Xingontothebone. Off at 8-1, Tough It Out paid $5.40 and $3.80.
Xingontothebone, who was caught four wide going into the first turn, finished 1 ¾ lengths in front of Glory Bound. Ridden by Martin Pedroza, “Xing” paid $4.80 to show.
VICTOR ESPINOZA, SMOKEY IMAGE, WINNER: “I was expecting that. I was expecting him to run a big race today. I worked him the other day and he worked unbelievably.
“I was very impressed. For me, I don’t look at it like a Cal-bred or not. I just look at him and ask whether he has potential, whether he can have a future. The way he ran today, he showed me that he can go the distance and he showed me that he can run with any horse, Cal-bred or not.
“He reminds me of California Chrome! The same color right? (laughs). I hope he’s as good as him. It’s hard to compare them at all. This is only the first time I have ridden him. I would like to see him in another race, then I will know more. The way he ran today was very impressive. Hopefully, I can get my next Kentucky Derby.”
CARLA GAINES, SMOKEY IMAGE, WINNER: “It feels wonderful! I was hoping (for a performance like that) but my quick conditioning had me a little worried. He had done everything so easily though so we decided to try this company first, going two turns before we jumped into deeper company. It looks like he handled two turns (well) right?!
“I wasn’t quite sure that he was going to go to the lead. Sprinting, he broke a bit awkwardly and I just really didn’t want to get into a speed duel in his first time going two turns. When my other horse, Record Highs, went with him I was thinking, ‘come on guys! Back up’ but they all settled into a nice pace for him. He looked pretty relaxed after that first turn. That first turn took him a little bit by surprise, then he settled and was going pretty easily.
“We might start on the first turn of the (Kentucky) Derby course and see what happens now. The San Felipe would be something we could look at.
“Thinking about the Derby doesn’t make me uneasy, not at all! Hopefully, that’s the route we’ll take but, day-by-day.
“My first impression was that he was just a very, very nice horse. You know what? Greg James and his assistant Mary did a tremendous job with this horse. Really, I just took over the reins. What can I say? They did all the preparation for me and I just want to thank them for that.
When asked what impressed her the most about the race: “How easily he won and how nicely he relaxed on the front-end. And, that he did that so easily going a mile and a sixteenth off his layoff. I didn’t feel like I had him completely prepped.”
BETTY IRVIN, SMOKEY IMAGE, WINNER: “Wasn’t that something? I thought that was pretty great.”
DIANE IRVIN, SMOKEY IMAGE, WINNER: “We have it (Kentucky Derby May 7) on our minds. We’re getting there. We’ll evaluate the calendar and see what he’s ready for, but certainly his performance today indicated we might have something more special.”
Source: Santa Anita Park