A showdown looms Saturday in the Grade III Las Cienegas Handicap when two downhill turf specialists are scheduled to lock horns at equal weights in the $100,000 race set for about 6 ½ furlongs on turf.
One would be the 6-year-old California-bred mare Unzip Me, winner of 14 of 25 starts for trainer Marty Jones, including seven of 11 on Santa Anita’s unique downhill course. The other is Mizdirection, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred daughter of Mizzen Mast trained by Mike Puype for a partnership that includes nationally acclaimed radio and television sports talk show host Jim Rome.
“She’s a good filly and she’s on her way up,” Puype said of Mizdirection, who worked five
furlongs on Santa Anita’s firm turf course Sunday in a bullet 59.80.
“She’s doing well right now,” Puype said. “Hopefully Mother Nature keeps us on the grass. She
can run on the dirt too, if we have to do it, but it would be better if we don’t even have to cross that bridge.
“Her turf sprints are all big. If you look at her turf record of seven starts, she’s five and two, but turf sprinting, she’s even better, with four wins and one troubled second. She’s found her home in the turf sprints, no doubt.”
Puype allowed as to how Unzip Me drawing the rail would benefit Mizdirection. “We’ll see what happens,” he said, adding that 2011 Santa Anita Oaks winner Turbulent Descent is at Hollywood Park preparing for her return to the races.
“She’s back in training, she’s good to go, and she’s going to start working real soon,” Puype said. “Recent rains have kept me up in the air as to what day it will be, but she’s getting ready to work soon.”
The field for the Las Cienegas: Unzip Me, Joe Talamo, 6-5; Teroda, Martin Garcia, 9-2;
Saanneen, Eswan Flores, 20-1; Broken Dreams, Alonso Quinonez, 6-1; Mizdirection, David Flores, 1-1; and La Nez, Martin Pedroza, 20-1.
P. VAL SET FOR COMEBACK APRIL 26 AT HOLLYWOOD PARK
Patrick Valenzuela is coming back. “He’ll start the first day at Hollywood,” his agent, Tom
Knust, said this morning. The Hollywood Park meet begins on Thursday, April 26.
The 49-year-old Valenzuela announced his retirement from riding just over four months ago, but rumors had circulated that he would be making a comeback ever since. He had last ridden on Nov. 13 at Hollywood Park.
“I’m happy to hear it,” said his cousin, former jockey Fernando Valenzuela, 41, now an exercise rider whose big horse is Eclipse Award winner Acclamation. “Patrick is better off when he’s working. He needs to lose four or five more pounds and he’ll be ready. I know he wants to be back to ride Acclamation in the Inglewood.”
That would be the Grade III Inglewood Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on turf on Friday, April 27. Valenzuela rode Acclamation in his last two races, the Pacific Classic last Aug. 28 and the Clement L. Hirsch on Oct. 2, both victories, before the 6-year-old California-bred horse was sidelined with a foot bruise.
The Eclipse Award winning outstanding Older Male of 2011, Acclamation worked one mile on Santa Anita’s main track Thursday for trainer Don Warren in 1:40.20 with Fernando Valenzuela aboard.
P. Val, as he is known on the track, began his career in 1978 and has 4,233 victories, highlighted by his triumph in the 1989 Kentucky Derby aboard Sunday Silence.
THE BEAT GOES ON FOR APPRENTICE ESWAN FLORES
Eswan Flores won’t come within shouting distance of Patrick Valenzuela’s Santa Anita meet record of 83 victories for an apprentice rider set in 1979-80, but the 19-year-old native of Mexico is enjoying a banner campaign at The Great Race Place, beyond anyone’s expectations.
“It’s a successful cycle,” said veteran agent Joe Griffin, who represents Flores, no relation to veteran jockey David Flores. Through the first 64 days of Santa Anita’s 72-day session that ends April 22, Eswan had 45 victories from 309 mounts, good for a tie for third in the standings with onrushing Joe Talamo, behind runaway leader Joel Rosario (83) and runner-up Rafael Bejarano (66).
“When you start to win, it catches everyone’s eye and tends to mushroom in a favorable way,” Griffin continued. “It’s a positive cycle. (Steve) Asmussen put us on a horse; we’re riding for (John) Sadler, (Richard) Mandella, (Jeff) Mullins, people like that, and it’s a solid endorsement for Eswan, enabling him to get on better horses.”
Flores currently rides with a five-pound weight allowance, which he is scheduled to lose on Sept. 11 when he begins riding as a journeyman.
ANOTHER OF SANTA ANITA’S POPULAR ‘FREE FRIDAYS’ TOMORROW
Santa Anita offers another of its popular “Free Fridays” tomorrow. General Admission will be free to all Santa Anita attendees, with hot dogs, sodas and beers on sale at $2 each.
This is the fourth in a series of ‘Free Fridays’ this meet that was resurrected by Santa Anita CEO Mark Verge to give fans a break at concession stands and attempt to boost attendance at The Great Race Place.
On Saturday, all THOROUGHBREDS members in attendance at Santa Anita will be able to avail themselves of a free, 34-ounce Santa Anita beer mug with paid admission, while supplies last.
FINISH LINES: Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Amazombie, who gave Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith his 5,000th career victory by winning the Potrero Grande Stakes last Saturday, has been nominated to the Grade II, $400,000 Churchill Downs at seven furlongs on Kentucky Derby Day, May 5, said trainer and co-owner Bill Spawr, who previously had mentioned the $125,000 Tiznow Stakes for Cal-breds at Hollywood Park as the California-bred’s next race . . . Victor Espinoza, who suffered a hairline fracture in his left hand in a riding mishap on March 23, will resume riding Thursday, April 19, agent Brad Pegram said . . . Multiple graded stakes winner Rail Trip had his first five furlong breeze on the comeback trail, going in 1:03 at Hollywood Park Thursday for trainer Ron Ellis . . . Bob Baffert, who held a 38-29 lead over runners-up Doug O’Neill and John Sadler in quest of his 10th Santa Anita training crown on March 22, had his lead pared to 42-36 over Sadler with eight racing days remaining. Meanwhile, with an 83-66 lead over runner-up Rafael Bejarano, Joel Rosario all but had the riding title locked up. A battle for third remained, however, with Joe Talamo and Eswan Flores tied with 45 wins each through Sunday . . . Agent Vince DeGregory has taken the book of 25-year-old apprentice rider Osvaldo Macias. A native of Guadalajara, Mexico, Macias carries a seven-pound weight allowance and broke his maiden on March 3 at Los Alamitos. DeGregory also represents journeyman rider Alonso Quinonez . . . Two time Santa Anita Handicap runner-up Setsuko is “looking good again” and is being considered for either the Grade II Mervyn LeRoy Handicap on May 5 at Hollywood or The Californian, also a Grade II, on June 2, Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella said . . . O’Neill, trainer of Santa Anita Derby winner I’ll Have Another, will be Steve Andersen’s guest on Saturday’s Daily Racing Form seminar, 11:30 a.m. in the East Paddock Gardens . . . With eight racing days remaining, 25 players were alive in ShowVivor2 going into Thursday’s races.