Mike Smith is looking forward to Sunday’s Grade I San Gabriel Handicap and a reunion with Becrux.
The Hall of Fame jockey has ridden the 6-year-old Italian-bred gelding in his last two races, winning a seven-furlong allowance race on synthetic at Oak Tree on Oct. 24 before finishing a fast-closing third in the Grade I Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park on Nov. 28.
“He’s a neat horse,” Smith said. “I really like him a lot. He’s really coming around and the Citation was a big race. If he runs back to that race, he’ll be tough.”
Smith also was impressed with Point Encounter, a front-running debut winner of Friday’s third race. The ability of the 2-year-old son of 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given trained by Carla Gaines was no secret. He was the 13-10 favorite in the 6 ½-furlong race on Pro-Ride.
“The nice thing was, he was as good in the afternoon as he was in the morning,” Smith said. “He was aggressive in the morning, so to run that quick (1:14.81) first time out is pretty impressive. I liked the way he galloped out. It looks like he’ll go long and hopefully he will. We’ll see what happens.
“He broke good, like he does in the morning, so I wasn’t surprised, but I was kind of hoping someone would outfoot him, but he’s just too quick.”
Gaines said Point Encounter, owned and bred by the Kentucky West Racing stable of Patrick O’Keefe of St. Charles, Idaho, came out of the race well. “I don’t really know,” she added when asked if he would go through his conditions. “We haven’t really mapped out a plan for him just yet. We’re going to take our time with him.”
The field for the 62nd running of the San Gabriel, for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on turf: Medici Code, Martin Pedroza, 114, 8-1; Proudinsky, Garrett Gomez, 116, 5-2; Sartorial, Corey Nakatani, 112, 12-1; Silent Soul, Ignacio Puglisi, 112, 20-1; Ferneley, Victor Espinoza, 114, 8-1; Porfido, David Flores, 116, 6-1; Swift Winds, Alonso Quinonez, 113, 10-1; Obrigado, Joel Rosario, 117, 9-2; and Becrux, Mike Smith, 117, 7-2.
GOMEZ HAS MONEY RECORD IN SIGHT AS 2008 NEARS END
Garrett Gomez, scheduled to ride six horses at Santa Anita today, was $216,981 shy of Jerry Bailey’s record for purse earnings in one year of $23,354,960 set in 2003, according to statistics from Equibase.
Gomez, who turns 37 on New Year ’s Day, is seeking his fourth straight national money title under agent Ron Anderson. Through Friday, Gomez’s mounts had earned $23,137,979.
“There are four racing days left (in 2008) to do it and we have a good chance,” Anderson said.
ELLIS PUTS DERBY FEVER ON HOLD FOR BELIEVE IN HOPE
It’s too early for Ron Ellis to be stricken with Derby Fever. The 48-year-old trainer has never won the Run for the Roses, but he does have at least one hopeful for the world’s most famous race, run this year on May 2 at historic Churchill Downs.
That would be Believe in Hope, third in last year’s Norfolk Stakes behind Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Midshipman. Ellis is in no hurry to try stakes competition with Rail Trip, a son of Jump Start owned by the Jay Em Ess Stables.
“I was looking at the San Vicente (Stakes at seven furlongs on Feb. 16) for Believe in Hope, but I haven’t felt real comfortable with the way he’s bounced back after being sick. I sent him to Chino (Hills Equine Hospital in Chino Hills) just for a day to be X-rayed and evaluated. His blood count isn’t where I’d like it to be. He’s still running a bit of high white count. I just sent him out there for diagnostic work, and they gave him a clean bill of health other than his blood count.”
WEST BARN HOPES TO BE MORE ACTIVE DURING SANTA ANITA MEET
Ted H. West, usually one of the more active barns in terms of starters, sent out only 19 horses during the recent 40-day meet at Hollywood Park. The good news is, he won with eight of them. The bad news is, his sub par number of starters wasn’t by design.
“I just don’t have too many, only 20,” the 35-year-old trainer said. “That’s pretty much towards the low end as far as my barn numbers, but I think everybody’s hurting a little bit. The economy is hurting the owners, and it affects their investment.”
One promising West runner is the Texas-bred Talkin to Mom Roo, who was second to Arkansas Derby winner Gayego at Hollywood Park recently. Talkin to Mom Roo is a candidate for the Jan. 1
El Conejo Handicap, a race West had the unique distinction of winning twice in the same year, with the ultra-quick Freespool in 2000.
FINISH LINES: Bobby Frankel scratched three horses from Saturday’s card, including 5-1 morning line selection Country Star in the Grade I La Brea Stakes, but they had nothing to do with track condition. “I’m waiting for the longer races (El Encino at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 18 and the La Canada Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 15) for her,” Frankel said of the Hollywood Starlet winner, who has not raced since last Aug. 18. Frankel said Eagle Stroke and Witness Protection were scratched from the third race due to fever . . . Defending Santa Anita training champion Mike Mitchell is looking forward to the 84-day meet. “I’m excited about putting the saddle on some of the Zayat horses,” the 60-year-old Bakersfield native said, referring to owner and breeder Ahmed Zayat. “I’ll have Ever a Friend, Monzante, Big Booster, Church Service and On the Acorn coming back, so it looks like it will be a good year.” Every trainer I talk to seems to like this (Pro-Ride) race track, including Bobby Frankel, and he’s tough.” . . . There will be racing at Santa Anita this Monday. The feature race is the $70,000 Impressive Luck Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at about 6 ½ furlongs down the hillside turf course. First post time is 12:30 p.m.