Blustery, winter-like conditions were in evidence Saturday morning as Santa Anita basked in the glow of a dusting of snow in the nearby San Gabriel Mountains.
Friday’s storm, direct from the Gulf of Alaska, resulted in an inch and a quarter of rain at Santa Anita, by far the most precipitation during a race day at the current winter/spring meet.
With four races scheduled to be run on the turf Sunday, including three down the hillside turf course, Spetnagel was confident that not only the turf oval, but the downhill part of the course would be usable as well.
VICTOR ESPINOZA EYES RETURN TO RIDING ON THURSDAY
Victor Espinoza, Santa Anita’s leading rider at the 2003-04 and 2006-07 meetings, was a visitor to Clockers’ Corner Saturday morning, looking fit and ready to resume riding next Thursday after recovering from a hairline fracture to a bone in his left hand suffered in a riding mishap on March 23.
“The first two weeks I didn’t do much, just relaxed,” said the 39-year-old rider, whose 27 wins placed him seventh in Santa Anita’s standings. “After that I began working out and getting ready to come back.”
A winner of last year’s Grade I Santa Anita Derby, Espinoza is represented by Brad Pegram.
LA NEZ BACK TODAY IN GRADE III LAS CIENEGAS HANDICAP
La Nez makes her first start in more than a year in today’s $100,000 Las Cienegas Handicap, which was moved from turf to dirt due to Friday’s rain. Still, trainer Eric Kruljac hopes for another solid effort from the consistent daughter of Storm Creek, who has a 5-3-5 record from 17 career starts, with earnings of $405,000 for owner Joe Masino of Escondido, who races as Class Racing Stable.
“She’s coming off an injury but she’s back and she’s training great,” Kruljac said of the 5-year-old California-bred mare, who has four stakes wins, all against Cal-breds. La Nez hasn’t started since finishing third in last year’s Las Cienegas. “Other than not having a race, she couldn’t be better.
“I was hoping the race stayed on the turf, but even so, we can get a nice little race for La Nez and get her ready for the next out. I train easy on them. I don’t drill them to get them ready first time out . . . I’m of the philosophy to use the first race and leave something to look forward to.”
CALIFORNIA FLAG RETURNS IN NEXT SATURDAY’S SAN SIMEON HANDICAP
Trainer Brian Koriner hopes next Saturday’s San Simeon Handicap will lead to an unprecedented fifth start in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint for California Flag at Santa Anita come November.
The 8-year-old California-bred has run in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in 2008 (at Santa Anita, finishing 10th); in 2009 (at Santa Anita, winning under Joe Talamo, who has the mount in the San Simeon); in 2010 (at Churchill Downs, finishing eighth); and last year at Churchill Downs, finishing 12th in a troubled trip. That was the most recent start for the gray gelding, who is four for six going at the distance of about 6 ½ furlongs on turf, the conditions of the San Simeon.
Overall, California Flag has five wins on Santa Anita’s turf course and is 10 for 25 in his career, with earnings of $1,228,825.
“If he runs in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint this year, it would mark five times,” pointed out the 45-year-old Koriner, who has a four-furlong turf drill scheduled Sunday for the son of Avenue of Flags. “The horse is doing well. Everything’s coming together. He’s worked on the grass the last five weeks and I hope the weather doesn’t prevent his last prep from being on the grass.
“The horse is great now. He trains great every day. We’ve always enjoyed having him around the barn. He loves his pony horses he goes to the track with. He’s a happy boy.”
‘PARTY IN THE PADDOCK’ FOR FANS AT SANTA ANITA ON CLOSING DAY
Santa Anita has announced plans for its first-ever “Party in the Paddock,” to take place on closing day, Sunday, April 22. Following the day’s final race, the entire paddock will be transformed into a celebratory atmosphere where fans, horsemen and employees can enjoy live music by the classic rock cover band, The Answer.
In addition to live music, fans will be treated to dancing and food and drink specials well into the evening.
“This is Santa Anita’s way of saying ‘thank you’ to everyone for making the 2012 meeting a season to remember and one that we can all build upon,” said Santa Anita CEO Mark Verge. “We think this is a great opportunity for us to get to know our customers better and to build better relationships with everyone. Our employees have worked extremely hard this meet and we’re grateful to all of them and to our fans and horsemen as well. It should be a lot of fun.”
Santa Anita’s 72-day winter/spring meet will finish on a high note, as the prestigious San Juan Capistrano Handicap, for older horses at about 1 ¾ miles on turf, will likely be carded as the final race of the day.
The San Juan Capistrano, which starts at the top of Santa Anita’s one-of-a-kind hillside turf course and requires runners to pass under the finish line twice, has provided many great racing moments over the years, headed by George Royal’s nose victory in 1966.
In what has often been called the most thrilling moment in Santa Anita’s first 50 years, legendary Hall of Fame jockey John Longden engaged future Hall of Famer Bobby Ussery in a furious stretch battle that resulted in George Royal prevailing by the slimmest of margins over Ussery and his mount, Plaque.
It was the final race in Longden’s storied career and it provided “The Pumper” with his 6,032nd career victory, which at the time, was more than any other jockey in history.
For more information on closing day, visit http://www.santaanita.com or call (626) 574-7223.
FAN APPRECIATION DAY NEXT SATURDAY; JOCKEY AUTOGRAPH SESSION SUNDAY
Next Saturday, April 21, is Fan Appreciation Day at Santa Anita. Fans can enter to win cash prizes in drawings throughout the day and contest entry forms will be handed out at admission gates.
THOROUGHBREDS members can scan their cards at the gate for a chance to win additional prizes.
Santa Anita’s jockeys will hold an autograph session on closing day, Sunday, April 22, from 11 a.m. to 12 noon in the East Paddock Gardens. Gates open at 10:30 a.m. First post time is 12:30 p.m.
FINISH LINES: The Out-of-Towners: Six Southern California-based jockeys ride elsewhere today: Rafael Bejarano (Secret Circle in the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park); Garrett Gomez (Midnight Crooner in the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland); Kevin Krigger (San Gabriel winner Norvsky in the $1 million Charles Town Classic); Edwin Maldonado (Las Flores winner Izzy Rules in the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn); Joel Rosario (Holy Candy in the Blue Grass); and Mike Smith (Bodemeister in the Arkansas Derby) . . . Trainer Peter Eurton has won with his last six starters at Santa Anita since last Thursday. He has two horses entered today, Called to Serve in the fifth race and Chickie Charms in the sixth . . . With six racing days left, 16 players were alive in ShowVivor2 presented by Treasure Island Las Vegas.