• BEHOLDER ON COURSE FOR LAS VIRGENES DESPITE ULCER
• STEVENS IN GOOD HANDS WITH BRANDING FOR SANTA YSABEL
• UNBEATEN FILLY ISMENE RETURNS FRIDAY AT SANTA ANITA
• NO BLANKS FOR BLANC AFTER STAKES WIN ON A JEALOUS WOMAN
With time and hard work, Victor Espinoza has nearly doubled his win percentage in less than two months.
The 40-year-old Tijuana native finished a lackluster Betfair Hollywood Park meet with seven victories from 51 mounts for a win percentage of 14.
Fast forward through 18 days of the current Santa Anita meet and Espinoza has 10 victories from 37 mounts for a winning percentage of 27, well above the best of any rider with at least three wins this meet. Espinoza also has three seconds and six thirds for an in-the-money percentage of 51.35.
“It’s like anything else,” reasoned Espinoza, who won the 2002 Kentucky Derby aboard War Emblem. “When you’re not winning that many, you try harder and work harder trying to reach the next step. Right now, I feel great and the horses are running great.
“The trainers I ride for, their horses run very well, so we’ll try to keep it going. Pretty much every horse I ride is in the money or wins, and that’s what I’m here for. I expect to win each time I go to the track.
“I don’t want to go out there just for a workout. I feel I’m riding as well as I did when I was younger, and I even feel stronger than before. I don’t ride the quality of horses that I used to, but the ones I ride right now are pretty good. When the barns I ride for start winning races, that’s what puts you on top. When they’re not, your percentage is very low.”
Espinoza hopes to enhance his impressive percentage Saturday when he rides Teddy’s Promise for owners Ted and Judy Nichols and trainer Ron Ellis in the Grade II Santa Monica Stakes at seven furlongs.
“Seven-eighths is one of her best distances,” Espinoza said of the 5-year-old California-bred mare by Salt Lake, who won the Grade I La Brea Stakes at seven furlongs in December of 2011. In her last start, Teddy’s Promise rolled to a 5 ¼-length triumph with Espinoza aboard in the 6 ½-furlong Kalookan Queen Stakes Dec. 29 on a wet/fast Santa Anita main track.
“She’s doing great,” said Espinoza, who is represented by agent Brad Pegram, as is Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. “She’s returned to her old form. Earlier, she bounced in a couple races, but after her last race, I think she’s back and will run like old times. The Kalookan Queen was not that tough a field, but she ran an unbelievable race.”
The field for the Santa Monica, the eighth of 10 races on Sunshine Millions Day at Santa Anita Saturday: Journaliste, Garrett Gomez, 15-1; Distracting, Rafael Bejarano, 6-1;
Sugarinthemorning, Martin Garcia, 6-1; Teddy’s Promise, Espinoza, 3-1; Belle of the Hall, Corey Nakatani, 6-1; Byrama, Gary Stevens, 8-1; Rumor, Mike Smith, 4-1; Kindle, Edwin Maldonado, 4-1; and Pink Lollipops, Joe Talamo, 8-1.
ULCER MAY HAVE HAMPERED BEHOLDER IN 3-YEAR-OLD DEBUT
Champion 2-year-old filly of 2012 Beholder likely had an excuse when she was second in her 3-year-old debut as the 1-5 favorite in Monday’s Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes.
“We did an exam of her yesterday, scoped her and found an ulcer in her throat, a small one that we can clean up real quick,” Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella said on a rainy Thursday morning. “She probably had a pretty sore throat in the race and didn’t even know it.”
Mandella is optimistic that the daughter of Henny Hughes can still make the Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes at one mile on March 2.
“I don’t think it will interfere because of the timing of it,” Mandella said. “She’s going to get an easy week anyway. We’ll treat it and work on it, and if she gets better quick enough, we’ll go; if it doesn’t, we’ll do something else.”
As for Malibu winner Jimmy Creed, who had been pointed to the Strub Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 2, the son of Distorted Humor owned by B. Wayne Hughes is now ticketed for the Feb. 23 San Carlos Stakes, like the Malibu, a seven-furlong test.
“He had a little temperature last week,” Mandella said. “He got right over it but then he coughed a little the day before yesterday and now (with the track closed due to heavy rains) I can’t work him to catch up, so it’s (messed) up. We’ll just aim him to the San Carlos.”
STEVENS HAPPY THERE’S A PROCTOR IN THE HOUSE FOR BRANDING
Gary Stevens is optimistic that maiden winner Branding will give a good account of herself when she advances to stakes competition in Saturday’s Grade III Santa Ysabel for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles.
The daughter of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense trained by Tom Proctor for the Glen Hill Farm rallied to win a maiden allowance race at seven furlongs by 2 ½ lengths, giving Stevens his first win on Jan. 12 after a seven-year retirement.
It was Branding’s first start since last June 28, when she was off slowly from the inside in her debut race and finished a well-beaten eighth at Betfair Hollywood Park.
“She finished up running the right way, so you’d expect her to stretch out fine,” Stevens said of the maiden allowance score.
“She’s a filly with a lot of class and a lot of quality. It’s a big step up but we’ll see what happens. I’m in good hands with the trainer.”
The field for the Santa Ysabel, which goes as the fourth race: Escape Act, Martin Garcia, 4-1; Fiftyshadesofhay, Rafael Bejarano, 8-1; Scarlet Strike, Joe Talamo, 2-1; Switch to the Leads, Julien Leparoux, 10-1; Branding, Stevens, 3-1; and Heir Kitty, Garrett Gomez, 9-5.
UNBEATEN ISMENE RETURNS IN FRIDAY’S SIXTH RACE AT SANTA ANITA
Undefeated Ismene is scheduled to make her first start in Friday’s sixth race after she was sidelined for treatment of a chip in her knee following victory in the California Breeders’ Championship more than a year ago.
“It was very minor,” trainer Bill Spawr said of the chip, “and we might have continued, but there was a risk that it could have led to arthritis and with a filly like this, you don’t take chances.”
Owned and bred by Stephen Ferraro, the 4-year-old California-bred daughter of Tribal Rule won her debut race at Del Mar in August of 2011, and then upset odds-on favorite Sister Moon with a front-running score in the Anoakia Stakes on Oct. 22, 2011, before leading throughout to win the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes.
Ismene has been working smartly for her return, going six furlongs Jan. 11 in a bullet 1:12 2/5.
Spawr won two races Monday with horses he owns in partnership with Tom Sanford. They also own 2011 Sprint champion Amazombie. Agapito Delgadillo rode both winners, Big Wags ($6.20) in the fifth and Cayambe ($8.20) in the sixth.
BLANC LOOKS TO BRIGHTER FUTURE AFTER MEGAHERTZ WIN
Brice Blanc went 24 races before getting off the schneid at Santa Anita this meet, but when he did, he did so in style.
The personable 40-year-old native of Lyon, France, captured the $75,000 Megahertz Stakes last Sunday with A Jealous Woman for trainer Francis Meza and her husband, Eddie, chaplain for the Race Track Chaplaincy of America. Blanc’s first win came on the meet’s 16th day.
Blanc’s drought resulted in his amicable parting company with his agent of 2 ½ years, Mike Ciani. The rider hired veteran Joe Griffin in a bid for a fresh start.
“Winning the Megahertz helped for sure, not just financially but psychologically,” Blanc said. “A Jealous Woman’s got so much heart. She’s game and tries really hard every time.
“It’s always a positive to win a stake like that. The Mezas did a great job with her and it’s nice to win for them. I just need more horses like that.”
FINISH LINES: Agent Tom Knust reports that jockey Kevin Krigger is “100 percent” after a riding mishap last Friday. He rode Avare in Monday’s Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park and is named on 4-1 chance Deception Free for Peter Eurton in today’s eighth race. “He was very, very lucky,” Knust said. “He had a mild concussion and doctors said to take a couple days off and he’d be fine, and that’s what he did.” The other jockey Knust represents, Patrick Valenzuela, is still hors de combat with a bum right knee. “Work is being done on his knee,” Knust said. “He’s having treatment right now. I’m not sure on all the particulars, but he’ll be coming back.” . . . Sports columnist Chris Erskine, the Los Angeles Times’ version of Neil Simon, in his uproariously funny Page Two, Day at the Races dispatch on Thursday, excerpts of which follow: “Sixth race. The last of the Marx Brothers, track bugler Jay Cohen, stops by our table in the FrontRunner. ‘Tough times for the Chicago mob,’ Cohen reports. ‘The other day they had to lay off six judges.’ . . . There are no customers having birthdays to serenade, so we ask Cohen what song he plays for people getting divorced. Without hesitation, he launches into ‘Happy Days are Here Again.’ Yowza.
Santa Anita Statistics
(Current through Monday, Jan. 21
Jockey Mts 1st 2nd 3rd Win% Money Won
Rafael Bejarano 90 19 18 5 21% $1,119,330
Joe Talamo 101 16 15 18 16% $780,092
Garrett Gomez 60 14 14 5 23% $922,990
Edwin Maldonado 107 14 9 14 13% $590,020
Tyler Baze 104 12 12 12 12% $517,594
Martin Garcia 77 10 9 8 13% $569,888
Victor Espinoza 37 10 3 6 27% $338,810
Julien Leparoux 64 7 9 6 11% $457,764
Martin Pedroza 54 7 5 7 13% $334,520
Kevin Krigger 34 7 3 2 21% $187,950
Trainer Sts 1st 2nd 3rd Win% Money Won
John Sadler 55 10 9 8 18% $538,120
Doug O'Neill 67 9 12 5 13% $595,858
Jerry Hollendorfer 38 9 9 6 24% $542,658
Bob Baffert 60 7 9 5 12% $766,530
Peter Miller 27 6 7 2 22% $333,550
John Shirreffs 17 6 2 2 35% $272,480
Mike Puype 31 5 2 3 16% $239,380
Richard Mandella 16 4 3 2 25% $343,520