Patrick Biancone has a philosophical approach for Saturday’s Grade I Santa Monica Handicap, in which he will send out Baroness Thatcher against Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Ventura.
The 56-year-old Frenchman spurns the long-standing dictum widely attributed to the late Vince Lombardi that “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” (For the record, the quote originated from the late UCLA football coach Henry Russell “Red” Sanders. In 1950, at a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo physical education workshop, Sanders told his group: “Men, I’ll be honest. Winning isn’t everything. (Long pause). Men, it’s the only thing!” In 1955, in a Sports Illustrated article preceding the 1956 Rose Bowl, he was quoted as saying, “Sure, winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing).”
“It’s more important to participate,” said Biancone, referring to the credo of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who organized the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. “My filly already has a graded stakes victory (Grade III Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita in January 2007), and was beaten only a nose in a Grade I (the 2007 Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga).
“Victory in the Santa Monica would be rewarding in more ways than one, but, as the good Baron said, just to be there is something.”
Baroness Thatcher, a chestnut daughter of 2001 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Johannesburg owned by Thomas Van Meter II of Lexington, Ky., was third in the restricted Kalookan Queen Handicap Dec. 31 at 6 ½ furlongs on Pro-Ride. The 5-year-old mare performed well when stretched out, finishing third in the Grade II Black Eyed Susan Stakes at 1 1/8 miles in May 2007.
She has a 3-5-6 record from 23 starts, with earnings of $549,961.
Although Bob Baffert entered 2008 female sprint champion Indian Blessing in the Santa Monica on Wednesday morning, the trainer was undecided on running. “I entered, but I don’t know yet (if she’ll run). I’m just going to see how the race shapes up,” he said.
Baffert was obviously pleased that Indian Blessing won an Eclipse Award for the second consecutive year (she was 2-year-old filly champion of 2007 and on Monday was named outstanding female sprinter of 2008).
“It’s great that she won the Eclipse (over Ventura and Intangaroo),” Baffert said, “because horses should be acknowledged for their accomplishments. I was hoping that Midnight Lute (second to champion Benny the Bull in the voting and smashing winner of the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Sprint for the second straight year) would pull it off. I really thought he’d get it because he was the champion last year and they know what he’s capable of. It wasn’t like he was a one-hit wonder.”
The field for the 52nd Santa Monica: Tizzy’s Tune, Joel Rosario, 114; So Long Sonoma, Mike Smith, 112; She’s Cheeky, Alex Solis, 113; Indian Blessing, John Velazquez, 122; Wake Up Maggie, Tyler Baze, 115; Jibboom, Rafael Bejarano, 115; Ventura, Garrett Gomez, 123; and Baroness Thatcher, Joe Talamo, 115.
SOLIS DISMISSES SCOTT McCLELLAN, HIRES BRIAN BEACH AS AGENT
One of racing’s long-standing business relationships came to an end Tuesday when jockey Alex Solis handed agent Scott McClellen his pink slip after a successful run of 16 years. Brian Beach will now represent Solis, who had 10 wins from 57 mounts at Santa Anita through Sunday.
“I just needed a change, really,” Solis said between working horses on a picturesque Wednesday morning. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while . . . I just want to start all over again, get a fresh start. I can’t blame Scotty for anything, because I made a lot of mistakes the last few years. I said I didn’t want to ride cheap horses and didn’t want to ride Friday nights, and things like that.
“Now I feel I’m 100 percent. My mind is clear that I have another five or 10 years (of riding) and I’m having so much fun that I feel like I want to ride more, no matter what kind of horses they are. I’m training (physically) like I was before, and I’m riding the heck out of the mechanical horse (in the jockeys’ room).
“I’m exited about riding, and I think a lot of people have noticed that. The most important thing that gave me a wakeup call is how much I love riding races. I pray to God that I ride for as long a time as I’m given. I just want to make sure I have no regrets later on. I’m going to give 100 percent.
“I chose Brian because he’s well-liked on the backside and he’s a great agent. He’s fresh, too. He wants to work and I want somebody to concentrate 100 percent with me (McClellan still represents 18-year-old Joe Talamo, who had 17 wins through Sunday. Solis turns 45 on March 25). Scotty is a wonderful guy who took care of me for 16 years, and the most important thing to me was for Scotty to understand how I felt. It was important for me not to lose our friendship. I am very sad, because we’ve been together for 16 years. That’s a long marriage on the backside.”
“I have no hard feelings,” McClellan said. “Alex is my friend, but if he thinks he can do better, more power to him. He’s a good rider and a friend. I just wish I had him when he goes in the Hall of Fame.”
Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally, 76, who has been doing business with McClellan since he represented Frank Olivares in 1972, said he was “shocked” by the news.
“I’m excited to have the opportunity to come back representing a jockey of Alex’s caliber,” said Beach, who had been devoting time to a San Diego-area digital signage business called “Brandit TV” for the past 2 ½ years before the economic downturn forced him to consider other options.
SUPER BOWL SUNDAY AT SANTA ANITA FETES 106-YEAR-OLD PATRON
Sunday’s Grade III, $100,000 La Habra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies is the highlight of the day’s racing at Santa Anita, but seven additional races will be themed to coincide with the Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla., that day. 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.
Tuckman, born in Philadelphia, Pa., in 1903, was a regular attendee, along with her late husband, Leo, at Santa Anita in the late 1930s and ‘40s, according to her family. Although she still enjoys the races, Tuckman’s spare time is now primarily spent “playing cards or bingo on a daily basis” with her family and friends.
Tuckman and all fans attending this Sunday will be treated to races with “Big Game” implications.
“To be honest, Big Game Sunday is traditionally a pretty slow day at the racetrack,” said Santa Anita Racing Secretary Rick Hammerle. “By naming these races as we have, we’re just trying to lighten things up and have some fun. We’ve had good response from the horsemen and hopefully the fans will get a kick out of it as well,” he added.
Sunday’s first race has been named “The Troy Polamalu Purse.” The Polamalu is for older horses at seven furlongs, with each horse entered for a $12,500 claiming price. The purse is $15,000.
The third race is “The Kurt Warner Purse,” for 3-year-old maidens bred in California at 6 ½ furlongs. The purse is $44,000.
The fourth event has been named “The Ben Rothlisberger Purse,” which could result in some spirited Daily Double wagering from The Warner to The Rothlisberger. The Rothlisberger is for 3-year-old maidens at one mile and carries a purse of $46,000.
The fifth race is the fourth running of the $45,000 added “Super Bowl Party Starter Handicap,” for older horses at one mile on turf. The sixth race is “The Pittsburgh Steelers Purse” at 1 1/8 miles on turf. The race is a first condition allowance for older horses with a purse of $52,000.
Accordingly, “The Arizona Cardinals Purse” will follow the Steelers event as the seventh race. The Cardinals Purse is a third condition allowance for older fillies and mares at six furlongs with a purse of $57,000.
The Grade III La Habra Stakes goes as the eighth race; the ninth has been named “The Larry Fitzgerald Purse.”
“It’s important that fans try to ‘catch a winner’ in the last race and we thought this would be a great way to do it,” said Hammerle.
The Fitzgerald is for older maidens at one mile. Each horse runs for a claiming tag of $40,000. The purse is $21,000.
First post time on Sunday at Santa Anita is 11 a.m. The Super Bowl is scheduled for a 3:28 p.m. start.
FINISH LINES: Hot-riding Joel Rosario won four races on the Sunshine Millions card and two on Sunday to climb into a three-way tie for first with Rafael Bejarano and Garrett Gomez at 27 each through 24 days of the 84-day meet. “It’s more than we ever expected,” said agent Vic Stauffer, who took Rosario’s book after last Thanksgiving. “I knew when I got him that the ability was there, but when you consider the fact that he’s just turned 24 and is riding against the best riders—in my estimation—in the world, Bejarano and Gomez, I thought that we a chance to start the building blocks to be competitive with them, and it may turn out that way anyway. But right now, this far in the meet and to be tied with them is phenomenal. It’s a testament to Joel’s work ethic and the emergence of his ability. Imagine when he’s 28 or 33 and riding against these guys. He’s still just two years into this.” . . . San Rafael Stakes winner The Pamplemousse, working for the Grade III Sham Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 28, went three furlongs for Julio Canani in :36.20, breezing, Wednesday. “He was five off the fence,” said the colt’s regular rider, Alex Solis. “I had him under double wraps and he was pulling me off the saddle.” . . . Alex Procel Crowley, agent for jockey Agapito Delgadillo, will be Jerry Antonucci’s guest, 11 a.m., Saturday, at the Today’s Racing Digest Seminar in the East Paddock Gardens.