Wednesday, April 01, 2009


ARCADIA, Calif. (April 1, 2009) – Saturday’s anxiously anticipated Santa Anita Derby showdown unfolded with perceived underdog The Pamplemousse being installed as a narrow choice over high flying Pioneerof the Nile among 10 entrants in the 72nd running of Santa Anita’s Grade I, $750,000 event for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles.

Even though Zayat Stables at the last minute entered a potential rabbit, speedy maiden winner Z Day, to press front-running The Pamplemousse, Santa Anita oddsmaker Jeff Tufts was unfazed. He established The Pamplemousse as the 9-5 favorite. His more accomplished opponent, Zayat Stables’ Pioneerof the Nile, was listed at 2-1.

The confrontation between the pair, who rank among the top contenders for the May 2 Kentucky Derby, has taken shape as considerably more than a compelling horse race with its wealth of subplots.

In addition to conflicting styles and colors (The Pamplemousse is a gray, his rival a dark bay), there are the contrasting personalities of the two trainers and their Derby experience. Then there is the comparable void in the accomplishments of the two stellar jockeys.

The Santa Anita Derby will go as the sixth race on an eleven-race program that includes four other stakes races, three of them Grade II events, with first post at 12 noon. The entire card will be televised by HRTV with NBC due to show the Santa Anita Derby between 2 and 3 p.m. Approximate post for the Derby is at 2:45 p.m.

The complete field for the Santa Anita Derby (all entrants carry 122 pounds), with jockeys and morning line odds: Chocolate Candy, Joel Rosario, 6-1; Z Day, Aaron Gryder, 15-1; Unbridled Roman, Tyler Baze, 30-1; Pioneerof the Nile, Garrett Gomez, 2-1; Mr. Hot Stuff, Corey Nakatani, 8-1; Feisty Suances, Victor Espinoza, 15-1; Take the Points, Christopher DeCarlo, 10-1; Cape Truth, Michael Baze; 30-1; Gallant Son, Rafael Bejarano, 15-1, and The Pamplemousse, Alex Solis, 9-5.

Purchased for $150,000 by a partnership on the recommendation of Alex Solis II, son of the jockey, The Pamplemousse has improved dramatically since breaking his maiden when routing for the first time after two sprint setbacks for trainer Julio Canani.

He burst into the Triple Crown picture with a wire-to-wire win in Santa Anita’s Grade III San Rafael Stakes at one mile on Jan. 17 while scoring by two lengths over Square Eddie, runner-up and favorite in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

The Pamplemousse, which means “grapefruit” in French, came back to dust nine rivals in front-running fashion with a victorious romp by six lengths in the Grade III, $200,000 Sham Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 28.

“I’ve never ridden anything like him,” exclaimed jockey Solis, who recently turned 45, in the winner’s circle. “He’s unbelievable,” added the rider who is a finalist this year for Hall of Fame inclusion.

A runner-up three times from 15 rides in the Kentucky Derby, Solis believes he may finally have found the horse to put him over the top, courtesy of his 22-year-old son, a co-owner of The Pamplemousse.

As for trainer Canani, he is bound for his first Kentucky Derby at the age of 70. The closest he has gotten, he jokes, “is Kentucky Fried Chicken.” The native of Peru has saddled three Breeders’ Cup champions among a couple dozen Grade I winners, but the Triple Crown is uncharted territory for the respected conditioner. His only Santa Anita Derby experience was saddling filly Sweet Catomine to a fifth place finish in 2005.

The Pamplemousse, a Kentucky-bred son of Kafwain who has earned $209,280 from three wins in five starts, may have to show an extra dimension Saturday when launching his bid to become the ninth Santa Anita Derby winner to add a Kentucky Derby victory.

Z Day has been strictly a front-running sprinter during his five-race career on the East Coast. He joins Mike Mitchell’s barn for his first route and stakes try. Mitchell trains other horses for the Zayat Stables of Ahmed Zayat. Entering so-called rabbits in major stakes races is a tactic nearly as old as the sport itself.

So Pioneerof the Nile may gain a more favorable pace scenario when going after his third straight graded stakes triumph at 1 1/16 miles for Zayat, trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Garrett Gomez.

The homebred son of Empire Maker successfully contended with a relatively paceless situation in his most recent win, the Grade II San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 14, but his 1 ¼-length win as the 3-10 favorite was less than spectacular.

“He can handle any scenario,” Gomez said confidently following the San Felipe, adding, “but if we had a legitimate pace to sit behind, he’s more effective.”

Baffert, confident of returning to Triple Crown prominence after his sensational run of eight victories in six seasons ended after 2002, is hopeful that the presence of The Pamplemousse alone will be advantageous for Pioneerof the Nile.

“It won’t be like that in the Santa Anita Derby,” Baffert said after watching his colt “wait on horses” after gaining the San Felipe lead. “He’ll have The Pamplemousse to deal with. He won’t be able to lollygag.”

In his previous two victories, Pioneerof the Nile closed strongly to get up in the final stages to take Hollywood Park’s Grade I Cash Call Futurity by a nose over I Want Revenge last December and Santa Anita’s Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes by one-half length over Papa Clem and I Want Revenge on Feb. 7. He was flattered when I Want Revenge subsequently ran off with Aqueduct’s Grade III Gotham Stakes by 8 ½ lengths.

Gomez, a two-time Eclipse Award winner at 39 and en route to a fourth successive national earnings title, is a winner of eight Breeders’ Cup races, but he is still searching for a Triple Crown victory as well as a Santa Anita Derby win.

So far, Gomez is perfect aboard Pioneerof the Nile, who lost three of his first four starts before being transferred to Baffert’s barn. The colt enters Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby with earnings of $784,200 from an overall record of 4-0-1 in seven starts.

If either or both of the primary protagonists should falter in the Southern California attraction that has spawned 50 Kentucky Derby participants, Chocolate Candy might well be the one to step forward. The Candy Ride colt, owned and bred in Kentucky by the Sid and Jenny Craig Trust, has won four of his last five starts. His only setback since breaking his maiden came when running third, 1 ½ lengths behind victorious Pioneerof the Nile, in last December’s Grade I CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park.

With earnings of $382,500 from a 4-1-1 record in eight starts, Chocolate Candy has banked almost twice as much as The Pamplemousse. Hot-riding young Joel Rosario has the mount for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, one of four trainers in history to achieve 5,000 career victories. Both will be seeking their first victory in the Santa Anita Derby.

Each of the three Grade II stakes on the Derby Day program carries a purse of $150,000 and include the Arcadia, at one mile on turf; the Potrero Grande at 6 ½ furlongs, and the Providencia for 3-year-old fillies at one mile on turf. Rounding out the stakes portion of Saturday’s card is the Santana Mile, whose entrants include the late-developing, undefeated 4-year-old gelding, Rail Trip.

Millionaire Desert Code, who will be rejoined by Dubai World Cup-winning jockey Aaron Gryder, is the 121-pound high weight among nine entrants in the Arcadia. Gryder, at the age of 40, last weekend scored the biggest victory of his career when riding Well Armed to a runaway triumph in the world’s richest race with its $6 million purse.

Desert Code is coming off a 2 ½ length victory in the Grade III Daytona Handicap over Santa Anita’s downhill turf course with Gryder aboard on Feb. 15. A winner of $1,088,939 from a 7-4-2 record in 20 starts, the 5-year-old chestnut son of E Dubai could be hard to run down in the Arcadia. David Hofmans trains for Tarabilla Farms.

The complete field for the Arcadia Handicap, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Madeo, Gomez, 119; Booyah, Michael Baze, 113; Desert Code, Gryder, 121; Holy Thunder, Danny Sorenson, 112; Global Hunter, Solis, 117; Mr Napper Tandy, Rosario, 114; Sky Cape, Bejarano, 116; Dixie Chatter, Tyler Baze, 116, and Becrux, Espinoza, 115.

Mitchell, who is battling John Sadler for the Santa Anita training title, will send out the likely favorite, Halo Najib, among seven entrants in the Potrero Grande with Sadler saddling Six Pack Abs.

Halo Najib, who will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano, has competed in graded stakes in 11 of his 14 career starts for Zayat Stables while posting a 2-3-2 record for earnings of $345,993. Since coming under Mitchell’s care this Santa Anita season, the 4-year-old Halo’s Image colt has run third behind Johnny Eves in the Grade II Palos Verdes Handicap and second to Georgie Boy in the Grade II San Carlos Handicap.

The complete field for the Potrero Grande, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Davos, Espinoza, 113; Halo Najib, Bejarano, 114; Soul City Slew, Michael Baze, 113; Sea of Pleasure, Gomez, 114; Paul’s Hope, Rosario, 115; Six Pack Abs, Tyler Baze, 115, and Trumpet Player Jay, Gryder, 111.

Irish-bred import Pasar Silbano, winner of the Grade III La Habra Stakes in her last start on Feb. 1, will be among the contenders in the Providencia which attracted a field of eleven. Rosario subs for absent Mike Smith atop the Three Chimneys Racing filly trained by James Cassidy who comes into the race with a 5-0-1 mark in eight starts for earnings of $251,804.

Another Irish-bred, Pride Dancer, will be making her United States debut for trainer Bobby Frankel and the Diamond Pride Stable that includes Dodgers manager Joe Torre. Gomez rides the bay filly whose 2-3-0 record in six French starts earned $78,102.

The complete field for the Providencia Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: African Skies, Nakatani, 115; Acting Lady, Espinoza, 115; Air Fair, Solis, 115; Will O Way, Michael Baze, 121; Pasar Silbano, Rosario, 115; Pride Dancer, Gomez, 115; Mrs Kipling, David Flores, 115; Fastongrass, Brice Blanc, 115; Oui Say Oui, Alonso Quinonez, 115; Burg Berg, Tyler Baze, 115, and Rosy Mantle, Bejarano, 115.

Rail Trip, unbeaten in four starts, was considered a compelling candidate for last month’s $1 million Santa Anita Handicap before his connections determined that the jump from an allowance race to Santa Anita’s Grade I signature race might be premature.

Regular rider Jose Valdivia Jr. will be back aboard Jay Em Ess Stable’s son of Jump Start whose four wins have been achieved by a combined margin of 14 ¼ lengths while earning $114,600.

Weighted at 116 pounds, Rail Trip will be getting three pounds from co-high weights Ball Four and Dakota Phone while making his stakes debut in the Santana Mile.

The complete field for the Santana Mile, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Silent Soul, Ignacio Puglisi, 116; Cause, Espinoza, 113; Ball Four, Tyler Baze, 119; Dixie Meister, Solis, 118; Dakota Phone, Bejarano, 119, and Rail Trip, Valdivia, 116.

The Santana Mile is scheduled as the fourth race on the program. The Arcadia is scheduled as the seventh followed by the Potrero Grande, eighth, and Providencia, ninth.

Comments (0)

BallHype: hype it up!

Read more articles in the Santa Anita category.