Garrett Gomez has ridden Ventura in each of her seven starts in the United States, winning four. But to hear the two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey tell it, with any kind of luck, he might be perfect.
Ventura was second, beaten a nose, in the CashCall Mile at Hollywood Park last July, second by a length and a quarter in the Grade I Woodbine Mile on a yielding turf course against males, and third by nearly four lengths on a “good” course at Churchill Downs in the Distaff Turf Mile last May 3.
“She’s got little deer feet and she’s got a turn of foot, but she was having trouble getting out of the yielding ground to really quicken. But she’s a super mare and I’m excited to see her back and ready to go. I don’t work her, but I know she’s been training well.”
Ventura, a 5-year-old Chester House mare owned and bred by the Juddmonte Farms, has not raced since defeating two-time Eclipse Award winner Indian Blessing in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Oak Tree last Oct. 24. She has a 7-5-1 record from 15 starts, with earnings of $1,359,470.
The 37-year-old Gomez understandably was delighted about winning an Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding rider for the second consecutive year.
“There’s no feeling like stepping up on that stage (at the Fountainebleau Miami Beach Hotel last Monday night),” Gomez said. “I don’t get butterflies too often, but as soon as they started to announce the (Eclipse Award-winning) apprentice jockey and I knew I could be next, all of a sudden I got butterflies in my stomach.
“The culmination of what we (Gomez and his agent, Ron Anderson) accomplished the whole year and how much work was behind it flashed before me while I sat at the table waiting for the announcement. It was a special moment.”
The field for the 52nd Santa Monica: Tizzy’s Tune, Joel Rosario, 114, 20-1; So Long Sonoma, Mike Smith, 112, 30-1; She’s Cheeky, Alex Solis, 113, 10-1; Indian Blessing, John Velazquez, 122, 9-5; Wake Up Maggie, Tyler Baze, 115, 15-1; Jibboom, Rafael Bejarano, 115, 6-1; Ventura, Garrett Gomez, 123, 8-5; and Baroness Thatcher, Joe Talamo, 115, 6-1.
In other Santa Monica news:
Tyler Baze gives Wake Up Maggie a longshot’s chance in the race. Any time you ride for a trainer winning at a 33 percent clip (seven for 21), as Julio Canani was through Thursday, it might be wise to pay heed, even at 15-1.
“Seven furlongs is going to be a perfect distance for her,” Baze said of the 6-year-old Irish-bred mare he has ridden twice in seven U.S. races, winning the restricted Adoration Handicap at Del Mar last August 28.
“Nothing bothers her. She can come from five or six (lengths) out of it. She’s Cheeky looks like the only speed since Indian Blessing’s not going to run, so we might be sitting in the garden spot. I know she can finish. She’s been working absolutely wonderful.”
Baze has worked Wake Up Maggie in her six recorded drills since her last race, a third-place finish in the Grade II Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park on Dec. 7. Wake Up Maggie has a 6-6-2 record from 22 starts, with earnings of $632,124.
TRAINER RICHARD MATLOW ANNOUNCES HIS RETIREMENT
Richard Matlow, suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), said he was retiring as a trainer effective today. The 66-year-old trainer said by telephone from his home that the 14 horses he had in training at Hollywood Park would be sent to other trainers.
ALS is a progressive, usually fatal, neurodegenerative disease caused by the degeneration of motor neurons, the nerve cells in the central nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement. In the United States, the condition is often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, after the New York Yankees star who was diagnosed with the illness in 1939 and died from it two years later. Today, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is likely the most well-known living ALS patient.
Matlow’s only graded stakes win came in the Grade III Hollywood Prevue Stakes last Nov. 23 when Jack o’ Lantern, ridden by Isaias Enriquez, scored a $41.80 upset.
“I was diagnosed about seven months ago,” Matlow said after the race. “I was misdiagnosed for about a year. I’ve got a bad foot and my hands are not good but other than that, I’m not bad. I still come to the barn every day. That was probably one of my biggest wins.”
The 35-year-old Enriquez, who has ridden almost exclusively for Matlow in recent years, was understandably saddened by the news on Friday. “He’s a great trainer, a great friend and a very, very nice person,” Enriquez said. “We’ve been together for the last four years. He’s let me ride everything. We had good times together.”
HORSEMEN HAVE A BALL WITH SUPER BOWL PICKS
There was no shortage of opinions from backstretch personnel Friday morning at Santa Anita when it came to Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the upstart Arizona Cardinals, a seven-point underdog. Total points on the game is around 47, while the money line has the Cardinals about a 2-1 underdog.
The random sampling:
Trainer Barry Abrams—“Pittsburgh’s going to win. It’s just a matter of if they’re going to cover the spread, because the last six or seven Super Bowls have been close. Arizona is like the Giants last year. They were underdogs in every playoff game and they won them all. Arizona has the same pattern.”
Arizona native Bob Baffert—“I’d like to see Arizona win, but Pittsburgh’s stronger, and they play on a synthetic surface.”
Trainer David Bernstein—Pittsburgh. Their defense is too strong.”
Trainer Patrick Biancone—“The Cardinals have a better defense, and I like the ‘under.’”
Bronx native Jim Cassidy, a staunch New York Yankees fan—“I haven’t been following it all year. (Kurt) Warner’s done a helluva job, but I don’t see him getting by Pittsburgh.”
Trainer Ben Cecil—“The Steelers. I used to have a horse for one of the Rooney brothers (Tim. The Rooneys own the Steelers).”
Trainer Vladimir Cerin—“Pittsburgh can’t score like Arizona can.”
Jockey Victor Espinoza—“Steelers.”
Trainer Bobby Frankel—“I usually go for the underdog, but this will be a blowout for Pittsburgh. It’s their defense. The Eagles shut down the Cardinals in the second half of their game (won by Arizona, 32-25, after it held a 24-6 halftime lead). The Cardinals couldn’t move the ball. If Pittsburgh plays that kind of defense, it will be enough.”
Trainer Eoin Harty—“Arizona. (Troy) Polamalu (Pittsburgh defender) will be out of the equation. I like the Cardinals all the way.”
Trainer Bob Hess Jr.—Arizona. I like Warner. He’s an old man but I like his heart and ability.”
Trainer Dan Hendricks—“Cardinals. I’m going with the underdog.”
Trainer Mark Molina, a native of Philadelphia who moved to Glendora when he was five years old and grew up in the Southern California city—“I’m rooting for Arizona.”
Agent Richie Silverstein—“My heart is with the Cardinals, but my mind is with Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh minus seven looks like a gift to me.”
Trainer Craig Lewis (who has been known to wear a 49ers’ jacket)—“I’d like to see the Cardinals win, but Pittsburgh is awfully good.”
Trainer Ted H. West—“I like Arizona on the money line.”
Hall of Fame jockey and HRTV analyst Gary Stevens—“The Cardinals on the money line, and ‘under.’”
Jockey Alex Solis—“I’m taking the opposite of whatever Mike Smith picks. We call him the Black Cat. We wait to see what he picks, then we pick the opposite.”
HRTV’s Millie Ball, a native of England—“You have to tell me who’s playing first. Then I’ll tell you.”
FIRST POST TIME IS 11 A.M. ON SUPER BOWL SUNDAY
Sunday’s Grade III, $100,000 La Habra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies is the racing highlight at Santa Anita, but seven additional races will be themed to coincide with the Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla.
Santa Anita will also name Sunday’s second race in honor of 106-year-old Florence Tuckman, who will attend along with family and friends.
First post time Sunday at Santa Anita is 11 a.m. Gates open at 9:30 a.m. The Super Bowl is scheduled for a 3:28 p.m. start.
PEDROZA MAKING RAPID PROGRESS AFTER JAN. 11 INJURY
Martin Pedroza is in good spirits and making a rapid recovery at Arcadia Methodist Hospital after suffering a broken pelvis in a post parade mishap at Santa Anita on Jan. 11.
“To be honest, when I first got here I really wanted to die, that’s how much pain I was in,” the popular 43-year-old jockey said Friday. “I have improved so much, it’s unbelievable. Ten days ago, it would take me 45 minutes to get out of bed and walk five feet, the pain was so bad. Now, I can get up with pretty much no problem.
“My doctor (Orthopedist Dan Capen) says I’m way ahead of schedule now. I’m doing therapy four times a day and I’m going home tomorrow morning. The doctors, nurses, everybody here at this hospital have been fantastic; they’ve helped me so much. At first, it looked like maybe I was going to be out a year, but now, I think I can be back in maybe two or three months.
“I’ve had so many people contact me and I really want to say ‘Hi” and ‘Thank You’ to all the fans. This could have been so much worse. I know I’m blessed to be healing as fast as I am. One good thing about this is, my agent is losing weight because he’s short on money.”
Cash deficiency or not, agent Richie Silverstein was optimistic about his meal ticket’s recovery.
“He’s doing four rehabs a day, which is unheard of,” Silverstein said. “He’s out of the rehab center tomorrow, which is eight days ahead of schedule. Doctors say he is six to eight weeks ahead of his rehab schedule. I’ve said best-case scenario is two months, and I stand on that (for his return date). Sunday will be three weeks (since the injury), and I’m hoping five to six weeks. Of course, it could be a lot longer, but I’m still going with best-case scenario, which was two months.”
FINISH LINES: Jesus Rios won his first race at Santa Anita yesterday, guiding Seven Below to a $51.20 upset in the sixth race to trigger a $74,682 Pick Six carryover into today’s Free Friday program. “I’m very happy,” the 26-year-old Rios said Friday morning. “I’ve been getting close, but it’s great to win.” Rios won more than 1,500 races in his native Puerto Rico. His book is being handled by agent Tony Matos . . . Colonel John worked four furlongs in :47:80, breezing, Friday, but trainer Eoin Harty had no specific race in mind for the Santa Anita Derby and Travers Stakes winner, who pulled a muscle after finishing fourth in the Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26 . . .Trainer Jay Robbins said Palos Verdes Handicap winner Johnny Eves likely would make his next start in the Grade II San Carlos Handicap at seven furlongs on Feb. 21 . . . The airdate for the new TV show on Animal Planet, “Jockeys,” is Friday, Feb. 6 at 9 p.m. The series was shot throughout 2008 at Santa Anita, Woodbine, Fairplex and Oak Tree. The story line features jockeys seeking mounts for the Breeders’ Cup, which culminates in the final episodes. Santa Anita employees can get a sneak peek of the first two episodes at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 5 in the Baldwin Conference Room . . . Agent Vince DeGregory reports that Corey Nakatani has been booked to ride El Gato Malo in the Grade III, $100,000 Thunder Road Handicap at one mile on turf on Feb. 7, and Nan in the Grade I, $300,000 Las Virgenes Stakes at one mile on the same day, both for trainer Craig Dollase . . . There were 96 players alive on Santa Anita’s on-line handicapping contest, ShowVivor, entering Friday’s races.