With the Santa Anita Derby three weeks away and the Kentucky Derby just over six,
the focus on 3-year-olds with Triple Crown aspirations comes into sharper focus by the minute, specifically in the aftermath of yesterday’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

That’s where 28-1 outsider Will Take Charge and 7-2 shot Oxbow finished a head apart in first and second for 77-year-old D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time winner of the Run for the Roses, which unfolds this year on May 4 at Churchill Downs.

Bob Baffert, no stranger to winning the Derby himself with three victories, his last in 2002 with War Emblem, remains a major player despite a disappointing fifth-place finish by 6-5 Rebel favorite Super Ninety Nine, beaten more than eight lengths.

Baffert’s current primary hope would appear to be Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner Flashback, ticketed for the Santa Anita Derby on April 6. The gray son of Tapit suffered his first defeat in the San Felipe Stakes on March 9, but Baffert, as is his wont, was not about to write anything in granite as to future plans for his stable of talented sophs.

“All I know is every weekend we’re going to have some action from here on out,” Baffert said Sunday morning while supervising a handful of drills, including a four furlong workout by two-time Santa Anita Handicap winner Game On Dude, who went in 49.20 under Martin Garcia (Baffert got him in 49 flat).

“He cruised around there like a machine,” Baffert said of Game On Dude, who could make his next start in either the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic on April 20 or the $500,000, Grade I Oaklawn Park Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on April 13.

Should Lukas win the Run for the Roses this year, at 77 he would become the oldest trainer to win the Derby, supplanting Charlie Whittingham, who was 73 when he won with Ferdinand in 1986.

Stevens, who turned 50 on March 6, rides Titletown Five for Lukas in the $800,000, Grade III Sunland Park Derby on March 24. Stevens and Lukas joined forces to win the Kentucky Derby twice, on the filly Winning Colors in 1988 and with Thunder Gulch in 1995.

A nine-length maiden winner going seven furlongs at Churchill Downs last Oct. 28, Titletown Five was second by a neck to the ill-fated Violence at Saratoga last August. Considered a favorite for the Derby, Violence was retired after suffering a bone fracture to his right front leg after finishing second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 23.

Titletown Five, a Kentucky-bred son of Tiznow, is owned in part by Hall of Fame football players Paul Hornung and Willie Davis.


Victor Espinoza and Jorge Gutierrez enjoyed unexpected success at Santa Anita yesterday, jockey and trainer both winning three races and joining to capture the Grade II San Luis Rey Stakes with unheralded former claiming horse Bright Thought.

“So far, so good,” said Espinoza, who is represented by agent Brian Beach. “The meet started good for me, I’m winning good races and I’m trying to keep it going all the way through. Yesterday was a really great day. Brian and I are going to work hard the rest of the year.”

Espinoza’s three victories gave him 25 for the meet. His mounts have earned $1,123,940 and he is winning at a highly respectable 21 percent clip.

Gutierrez had his first three-win day since Fairplex Park where he was the meet’s leading trainer last year. The San Luis Rey was his first graded stakes triumph in his 12 years as a trainer.

“Bright Thought came out of the race in good shape, but for now I think we’re going to back off and give him a breather,” Gutierrez said. “He’s had three tough races here (winning each). Our goal probably is the (Grade I, $500,000) Woodford Reserve (Turf Classic) on Kentucky Derby Day. We’re going to supplement to that.”


Julien Leparoux will move his tack from Santa Anita to ride regularly at Keeneland when the Lexington, Ky. meet starts on April 5, agent Joe Ferrer said Sunday morning.

“I will handle his business,” said Ferrer, also the representative of Santa Anita riding leader Rafael Bejarano, who through Saturday held a 61-42 bulge over second-place Edwin Maldonado, winner of three races Saturday.

Through 50 days of Santa Anita’s 71-day meet, two-time Eclipse award winner Leparoux had 25 wins, 25 seconds, 14 thirds and purse earnings of $1,477,738.

Keeneland’s meet ends April 26, after which the 29-year-old Leparoux will head to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby on May 4.


With apologies to Mark Twain, reports of Jim Cassidy’s professional demise are “greatly

The affable New York City native was winless for such a long stretch at Santa Anita this meet, he did get inquiries asking if his training days were over.

Not by a longshot, as his two recent victories attest. Cassidy, a staunch New York Yankees’ fan, last Sunday ended a 37-race winless streak through 46 days of the 71-day meet when In Taylor’s Honor won at a $16.40 payoff, and topped that when Disko Dasko scored on Friday, returning $20.60.

Yesterday, Cassidy sent out 60-1 outsider Jazz On The Beach to finish third in the fourth race, triggering a $3,665 trifecta payoff. And he’s not done yet.

“Nothing’s changed in my training methods,” the 67-year-old Cassidy said, addressing
the dry spell that ended Friday. “But I have had two or three people ask me if I was going to retire (laughing).

“But no, everything’s starting to pick up and we have some more bullets to fire before the meet’s over.”


Santa Anita will present its sixth annual “Santa Anita Uncorked” wine and culinary festival next Sunday, March 24.The event will be staged in the track’s Club Court area, on the east end of the Grandstand beginning at 12 noon and will feature a wide array of boutique and hand-picked wine selections, cuisine sampling from 25 popular local restaurants, an art exhibit and a full day of exciting Thoroughbred racing.

“Santa Anita Uncorked” is available to everyone, “food only” ticket is available for those under 21. All attendees will receive the following: Parking & Admission; Daily Race Program; Wine Tasting; Cuisine Sampling; Art Exhibit; A Souvenir Wine Glass; and Grandstand Seating at The Great Race Place for the Entire Day

Tickets are $60 each and can be purchased on line at http://www.santaanita.com, or at the track, either in the Grandstand ticket office or at Champions! gift shop, in the East Paddock Gardens.

Sponsored by the Wine of the Month Club, “Santa Anita Uncorked” will offer attendees a great cross section of outstanding cuisine from 25 high-end restaurants and will be supported by 25 wineries.

Proceeds from “Santa Anita Uncorked” will go to benefit the California Retirement Management Account (CARMA), Arcadia High School and the Pasadena Humane Society.

FINISH LINES: Leading rider Rafael Bejarano has been suspended three days (March 22-24) for causing interference on Unusual Lover in the third race on Thursday . . . Multiple turf stakes winner Lady of Shamrock, prepping for next Sunday’s Santa Ana Stakes, worked seven furlongs on Santa Anita’s fast main track Sunday in 1:25.80 for John Sadler. Other Santa Ana probables include A Jealous Woman (Brice Blanc) and Tiz Flirtatious (Julien Leparoux). Mike Smith rides Lady of Shamrock.


(Current through Saturday, March 16)
Jockey Mts 1st 2nd 3rd Win% Money Won
Rafael Bejarano 246 61 46 23 25% $3,092,492
Edwin Maldonado 274 42 34 38 15% $1,668,334
Garrett Gomez 162 40 25 17 25% $2,311,188
Joe Talamo 273 32 44 46 12% $2,216,615
Tyler Baze 276 32 32 26 12% $1,260,522
Martin Garcia 189 28 28 23 15% $1,562,885
Julien Leparoux 176 25 25 14 14% $1,477,738
Victor Espinoza 118 25 11 18 21% $1,123,940
Kevin Krigger 115 16 16 10 14% $589,614
Martin Pedroza 128 15 13 20 12% $635,880
Agapito Delgadillo 102 13 13 17 13% $354,535
Mike Smith 73 13 10 13 18% $1,422,416
Gary Stevens 74 12 18 12 16% $936,564
Orlando Mojica 140 10 12 22 7% $455,778
Mario Gutierrez 126 9 17 18 7% $517,488
Aaron Gryder 99 9 9 7 9% $357,508
Corey Nakatani 95 8 8 16 8% $778,311
David Flores 76 8 3 7 11% $418,578

Trainer Sts 1st 2nd 3rd Win% Money Won
Bob Baffert 135 28 25 12 21% $2,771,630
Jerry Hollendorfer 87 24 19 11 28% $1,455,396
John Sadler 148 22 25 20 15% $1,173,467
Doug O'Neill 179 18 33 22 10% $1,200,332
Peter Miller 79 13 17 11 16% $745,402
Mike Puype 80 13 6 12 16% $635,813
Richard Mandella 40 12 9 3 30% $842,192
Mike Mitchell 55 11 8 6 20% $412,764
Jorge Gutierrez 50 10 4 12 20% $326,934
Julio Canani 44 10 3 5 23% $336,900
William Spawr 37 9 9 5 24% $231,036
Peter Eurton 43 8 8 5 19% $341,440
Mark Glatt 64 8 7 7 13% $262,230
Jeff Bonde 26 8 4 4 31% $339,540
Art Sherman 31 8 3 5 26% $214,060
Ronald Ellis 41 8 3 4 20% $455,570