Under a confident ride by Alex Solis, the gray son of Kafwain defeated the odds-on favorite by two lengths while covering one mile in 1:35.31 after setting a solid, but comfortable early pace. Runner-up Square Eddie, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, ended up 2 ¾ lengths ahead of third-place Ryehill Dreamer with Mike Smith aboard.
The Pamplemousse put himself squarely into the Triple Crown picture. “I better start going to church and hope he stays sound,” commented Solis. He might want to be accompanied to church by his son, Alex II, a part owner who picked out the colt at the Ocala Breeders’ Sale in March of 2006. The sales price was $150,000. “This makes it even more special,” noted the 44-year-old rider. “My son liked the way he moved.”
At odds of 5-2, The Pamplemousse was the second choice after three late scratches reduced the starting field to five. He paid $7.20, $3 and $2.20. Square Eddie paid $2.20 and $2.10 with the show price on Ryehill Dreamer being $2.60.
“I was concerned when I saw the early fractions, but he was training unbelievable,” said Julio Canani, who trains The Pamplemousse for a partnership that includes Ann Winner, Carol Bienstock, William Strauss and the younger Solis. The Pamplemousse earned $60,000 to bring his total to $89,280 from a 2-0-1 record in four starts.
“He’s developing mentally and physically,” Canani added. “He’s awkward because he’s growing and growing. He’s huge, but he’s got a great mind, and I’ve got no problems with him. He re-broke in the stretch when Square Eddie came to him, but he’s much better when he follows another horse. I’ll take my time with him. If I run him in the (April 4) Santa Anita Derby, he may run one more time before that.”
Doug O’Neill, who trains Square Eddie, said that the 3-5 favorite “got tired.” Added O’Neill, “He should definitely move forward off this. It was his first race in almost three months. Obviously, we wanted to win, but the main thing is for him to come out of this good and go in the right direction.”
The mild upset in the San Rafael was followed by a considerably bigger surprise as 18-1 longshot Nownownow took the 57th running of the Grade II, $150,000 San Fernando Stakes for 4-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.
Joe Talamo rallied the Whywhywhy colt from ninth in the field of eleven to reach the front in midstretch before drawing off to score by 2 ¾ lengths over 17-1 shot Dakota Phone with 10-1 Wishful Tomcat another three-quarters of a length back in third. Slew’s Tiznow, the 19-10 favorite, was fourth. The winning time was 1:41.45
Nownownow, trained by Patrick Biancone for Fab Oak Stable, had been winless in six previous starts after being victorious in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Monmouth Park in October of 2007. He was coming off a sixth-place finish at 33-1 odds in Santa Anita’s Grade I Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26. He raced in blinkers for the first time on Saturday.
“The blinkers put him more into the race early,” Talamo said. “There was a lot of speed in the race, and Pat (Biancone) said to be patient. I was able to stay on the rail and it opened up for me there at the top of stretch.”
The across-the-board mutuels on Nownownow were $38.40, $14 and $6.60. Dakota Phone, with Garrett Gomez in the saddle, paid $14 and $6.80. Wishful Tomcat, ridden by Joel Rosario, paid $8.40 to show.
“He was very good today,” Biancone said of the winner. “Joe rode the perfect race. He saved all the ground, came out at the right time. . .perfect day.” Biancone said he plans to race Nownownow in the Grade II Strub Stakes on Feb. 7 before considering the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 7.
Nownownow added $90,000 to his earnings to bring his overall figure to $781,824 from a lifetime record of 2-2-1 in 13 starts.
On paper, trainer John Sadler seemed to have the 56th running of the Grade II, $150,000 Santa Ynez Stakes surrounded with his well-backed pair of 3-year-old fillies, and that’s the way the third stakes race on the card unfolded as 3-2 choice Alpha Kitten defeated 2-1 Evita Argentina by 1 ½ lengths while covering seven furlongs in 1:21.84.
Ridden by Tyler Baze, Alpha Kitten gained command at the head of the stretch in the field of eight and comfortably withstood the late charge of her stablemate, who rallied from last under Gomez. It was 1 ¾ lengths further back to Nan and jockey Corey Nakatani, who finished third.
A gray daughter of Tale of the Cat owned and bred by Jerry and Ann Moss, Alpha Kitten returned to what may have been a more compatible distance after finishing a well-beaten fourth in her previous start, Hollywood Park’s Grade I Hollywood Starlet at 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 13.
Even though she showed only a maiden victory on her resume in three previous starts, Alpha Kitten captured the fancy of the bettors while getting nine pounds from her multiple-stakes winning stablemate, Evita Argentina, who carried 123 pounds.
The winner paid $5, $2.80 and $2.40 while Evita Argentina returned $2.80 and $2.60. The show price on Nan, who went off at 19-1, was $4.60.
“Evita Argentina had to give away of a lot of weight for a 3-year-old filly at this time of year,” Sadler said afterward. “There wasn’t a lot of pace, and both of my horses ran really, really good races. We’ll try them a route of ground again. It was important that they get this graded credit on their pedigree.”
The graded stakes victory was worth $90,000 to Alpha Kitten’s bankroll as it escalated to $162,870 from her second win in four starts and initial stakes victory.
Santa Anita’s expanded holiday weekend moves into its second of three days on Sunday when a nine-race program is headed by the Grade II, $150,000 El Encino Stakes for 4-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles. First post is at 12:30 p.m.
SAN RAFAEL STAKES QUOTES
ALEX SOLIS, THE PAMPLEMOUSSE, WINNER: “I’m speechless, I really am. This horse has such a high cruising speed, I thought I was going (quarter mile splits of) 24, 48…It feels like he’s walking, he does everything so effortlessly. He was so impressive, when the other horses came to him, he didn’t see them, he heard them and he just took off.”
WHEN ASKED WHAT IT FELT LIKE TO HAVE A POTENTIAL DERBY HORSE: “I better start going to church and hope he stays sound. My son (part-owner Alex II) buying the horse makes it even more special…He liked the way he moved.”
JULIO CANANI, THE PAMPLEMOUSSE (The Grapefruit), WINNER: “I was concerned when I saw the early fractions, but he was training unbelievable. He’s developing mentally and physically. He’s awkward because he’s growing and growing. He’s huge, but he’s got a great mind, and I’ve got no problems with him. He re-broke in the stretch when Square Eddie came to him, but he’s much better when he follows somebody (another horse). I’ll take my time. If I run him in the Santa Anita Derby (April 4), he may run one more time before that.”
DOUG O’NEILL, SQUARE EDDIE, 3-5 FAVORITE, SECOND: “He should definitely move forward off this. He got tired. It was his first race in almost three months. Obviously, we wanted to win, but the main thing is for him to come out of this good and go in the right direction.”
NOTES: The winning owners are Ann Winner and Carol Bienstock of Encino; Alex Solis Jr. of Pasadena; and William Strauss of Del Mar.