Thursday, April 02, 2009



Despite victories in his last three races, all graded stakes, Pioneerof the Nile’s stock in some quarters has tumbled like a stone in a landslide. Understandably, Team Baffert isn’t buying.

Bob Baffert, who trains Pioneerof the Nile, and Garrett Gomez, who is unbeaten in three rides on the son of Empire Maker, shrug off criticism that Pioneerof the Nile did not win the Grade I CashCall Futurity, the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes and the Grade II San Felipe Stakes in eye-catching fashion.

“He went real nice (Tuesday, four furlongs :47.60),” Baffert said of the colt’s final blowout for Saturday’s Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby. “He did it real easy. I’m very happy.” Asked if he would just let Pioneerof the Nile “run his race,” and not alter strategy in deference to the quickness of The Pamplemousse and the unexpected entry of speedy sprinter Z Day, Baffert said: “I’m not riding him, so I don’t know.”

Garrett Gomez, who is riding Pioneerof the Nile, does know.

“We’ll have to see what the race looks like on paper,” said Gomez, an Eclipse Award winner the past two years as the nation’s outstanding jockey. “He’s very versatile, and that’s why I rode him the way I did the other day (winning the San Felipe from just off the pace), to make sure I could do certain things with him.

“I tried to test him without getting him beat. I’ve put him in different situations, and he’s come from all over the place. That’s one of his assets. He may not be as impressive in some races as in others, but he gets the job done, and that’s what counts.

“He’s been training well, and I’ve been working him until the last couple of weeks, when I’ve been out of town. He’s doing well, and he came out of the San Felipe in good shape and I’m excited about the Santa Anita Derby.”

Baffert said he was “glad” to be back in action in the Santa Anita Derby. The 56-year-old trainer hasn’t had a starter since 2006, when Point Determined finished second. Baffert has won the race four times, with Cavonnier (1996), Indian Charlie (1998), General Challenge (1999) and eventual Horse of the Year Point Given (2001).

Julio Canani, meanwhile, was unconcerned with the entry of “rabbit” Z Day, who has been in front in his last four races and who has never raced beyond 6 ½ furlongs.

“When The Pamplemousse broke his maiden, he was laying second,” the trainer pointed out. “I never ask my horse to work fast. He does it on his own. I want him to go five-wide every time I work him because I don’t want him to go fast. He’s a natural.”

The field for the 72nd Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles on Pro-Ride, which goes as race six with a scheduled 2:45 p.m. post time: 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.

NBC will televise the race from 2 to 3 p.m.

In other Santa Anita Derby news:

Mr. Hot Stuff worked five furlongs on Pro-Ride Monday in 1:01.40. “He’s all set,” said trainer Eoin Harty, just back from Dubai where he saddled Well Armed to a record 14-length triumph in the $6 million Dubai World Cup.

“He’s an improving colt, but he’s going to have to really improve to run against these guys, but stranger things have happened,” said Harty, who saddled Colonel John to win last year’s Santa Anita Derby for the WinStar Farm, which also owns Mr. Hot Stuff. Mr. Hot Stuff, a son of 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow, is a full brother to Colonel John. “It will be nice to go for a double,” Harty said, “but it’s a tall order.”

A Santa Anita on-line poll favors The Pamplemousse to win the Santa Anita Derby, with 54 percent of the vote. Pioneerof the Nile received 24 percent, and the rest 22 percent combined.

First post time for the 11-race program Saturday is 12 noon. Gates open at 10 a.m. Saturday’s local weather forecast calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s.


The 3-year-olds and the Santa Anita Derby are dominating headlines Saturday, but a sub-plot with more than passing interest involves Rail Trip, the undefeated gelding who has yet to be seriously challenged in four facile victories.

Rail Trip is expected to receive his sternest test to date in the $70,000 Santana Mile. The 4-year-old son of Jump Start owned by the Jay Em Ess Stable and trained by Ron Ellis drew the outside post position in a field of six.

“We’ve drawn outside Ball Four and he’s got plenty of speed,” Ellis said. “This will be the first time Rail Trip has hooked a horse that can go faster than :48 (for a half-mile) around two turns, so that will be good for him. He’s doing really well.”

The field for the fifth Santana Mile, which goes as the fourth race: Silent Soul, Iggy Puglisi, 116; Cause, Victor Espinoza, 113; Ball Four, Tyler Baze, 119; Dixie Meister, Alex Solis, 118; Dakota Phone, Rafael Bejarano, 119; and Rail Trip, Jose Valdivia Jr., 116.


Fans coming to Santa Anita on the meet’s final three Sundays—April 5, 12 and 19—could have their mortgage or rent paid for the month of May (up to $3,500).

Interested fans should enter the Santa Anita Stimulus Drawing at any admission gate. One name will be selected each Sunday immediately following the sixth race. Sponsored by Westside Rentals, the winner’s mortgage or rent for the month of May will be paid, up to $3,500.

FINISH LINES: Rafael Bejarano won one race Wednesday to draw within four of leader Garrett Gomez, 81-77, with 14 racing days left in the meet. “It’ll be close,” said agent Joe Ferrer, who represents Bejarano. “We ride Papa Clem in the Arkansas Derby on April 11. That’s probably the only day we’re going to miss here, so yeah, we’ve got a chance to win it. He wants to ride the card every day. I haven’t been doing that. Yesterday, we rode only three out of eight, but he wants to keep busy. Saturday, we ride 10 out of 11.” Gomez leaves for Kentucky to ride at Keeneland when it opens Friday, returns for engagements on Santa Anita Derby Day, then heads for Keeneland again to ride out the meet. Gomez needs three stakes wins at Santa Anita to break the meet record of 19 shared by Laffit Pincay Jr. and Corey Nakatani . . . Mike Mitchell won races five through seven Wednesday to take a 33-32 lead over John Sadler in the race for training honors. Mitchell won Santa Anita’s crown last year with 33 wins . . . Victory by the 6-year-old gelding Dadsalittleunusual in Wednesday’s fifth race was the 27th by an offspring of Unusual Heat this meet, breaking last year’s record of 26. “We continue to be amazed,” said Madeline Auerbach. She manages stud duties for Unusual Heat, who stands at Old English Rancho in Sanger for $20,000. “One thing we’ve noticed about his horses is, as they get older, they get better,” she said. “I don’t necessarily mean they’ll suddenly develop new ability they didn’t have, but they seem to have longevity at whatever their level is, whether they’re a twelve-five ($12,500) claimer, like Dadsalittleunsual. He was a perfect horse to break the record, because he’s been around for a long time and he’s kind of a plodder with a workmanlike attitude. These horses are tough.” . . . Team O’Neill still holds hope that Square Eddie can make the Kentucky Derby. The son of Smart Strike trained by Doug O’Neill for J. Paul Reddam worked four furlongs on Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track Monday in :50.80, breezing, as he progresses from shin problems. “We’re moving along,” said Dennis O’Neill, Doug’s brother and associate. “He’ll work again Sunday, five-eighths and (gallop) out three-quarters. He came out of the work really good, but we’re just kind of going week to week.” . . . Aaron Gryder was still on Cloud Nine after winning last Saturday’s $6 million Dubai World Cup by a record 14 lengths aboard Well Armed. “If anybody told you they thought they were going to win a race by 14 lengths, they’d be lying to you, no matter how good the horse is,” the 38-year-old rider said. “I wasn’t surprised at his victory; I thought he was doing great. I expected a big performance. I was very happy in the early stages, the way things were shaping up. When I got to the three-eighths pole, I knew I had a lot of horse left, so it was a fun ride.” Thanks to his World Cup victory, Gryder has catapulted to the top in national purse earnings with $4,348,880, past Gomez, who is now second with $4,274,704. . . DUI charges against Julio Canani issued March 1 in Sierra Madre have been dismissed, Canani’s attorney, Roger Licht, said Thursday. “The case was never even filed,” said Licht, former chairman of the California Horse Racing Board. “The test was .03, which is way below the legal limit of .08.” . . . Mike Machowsky says Sunland Derby winner Kelly Leak likely will make his next start in the $400,000, Grade III Lone Star Derby at 1 1/16 miles on May 9. Machowsky said a half-brother to Kelly Leak, by 2004 Santa Anita Handicap winner Southern Image, who was trained by Machowsky, will be for sale at Barretts on May 11 . . . There were 121 horses entered on Saturday’s card, an average of 11 per race . . . Tomorrow is another ‘Free Friday’ at Santa Anita. General admission is free, as are box seats, while supplies last. Hot dogs, soda, beer, popcorn and coffee are $1 . . . HRTV will add the Grand National Steeplechase race from Aintree Racecourse in England to its busy racing schedule this Saturday. Post time for England's most historic race is 8:15 a.m. The network's daily "RaceDay America" will begin at 8 a.m. to accommodate the special broadcast. HRTV will present live coverage of both days of Keeneland's 2-year-old in training sale, beginning this Monday, April 6, at 4 p.m. The two-day sale continues on Tuesday, April 7, also at 4 p.m., with a total of 216 Hips slated to go through the sales ring before conclusion. Last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown is a graduate of this sale . . . Jason Levin of “Inside Racing” on XTRA 570 AM, Los Angeles on weekends at 7 a.m., and Aaron Hesz of Handicappers’ Report, square off in Sunday’s Fans’ Forum hosted by Jack Disney, 11:15 a.m. in the East Paddock Gardens . . . Two participants remained alive in Santa Anita’s popular on line handicapping contest, ShowVivor II, going into Thursday’s races. On Wednesday, one selected Welken (third in the second race) and the other tabbed Lavender Touch (winner in the third).

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BallHype: hype it up!