The high school senior maintained his third-place standing behind such nationally renowned riders as Joel Rosario (49 wins) and Rafael Bejarano (37 wins) while vigorously encouraging 13-1 Tones to hold off Stoney Fleece, the hard-charging 2-1 favorite ridden by Rosario. The winning margin was a neck.
“This has been a dream of mine since I was eight years old,” Flores said in discussing his aspirations and achievements. “I wanted to be here so much I didn’t even care if I was a galloper; I just wanted to be around horses.
“Now I’m here winning races, and winning a stakes race is the best feeling ever. I saw the wire and I saw my nose in front of another horse, but it was a tight race. I was really scared and couldn’t wait for the wire to get there.”
While the teenager was enjoying a landmark occasion, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert happened upon a subpar afternoon. Subpar, when measured by his recent accomplishments.
After saddling the day’s first winner, Tiz the Tide, to extend a victory streak to 13 straight races and 14 of 15 spanning races at Oaklawn Park and Golden Gate Fields in addition to Santa Anita, Baffert finally cooled. His next two Santa Anita starters finished out of the money including 5-2 second-choice Brigand in the Baffle.
Trained by Doug O’Neill, Irish-import Tones tracked the early pace set by Smoking G, took a short lead in midstretch and had enough left under Flores’ urging to win his second United States start. Stoney Fleece nipped Passing Game by a nose for the place with Smoking G another half-length back in fourth. The final time was 1:13.47.
The winning mutuels on Tones were $29.60, $8.20 and $5. Stoney Fleece returned $3.80 and $3. The show price on 21-1 shot Passing Game, ridden by Kevin Krigger, was $7.20.
“The race set up great for us today,” said O’Neill. “He had a target today, but you never know how a horse will handle crossing over the dirt, but he crossed the dirt perfectly. I’m not sure what’s next, but it will be something on the grass.”
Owned by Steve Keh, Westside Rentals.com and W C Racing, Tones had shown little in his U.S. debut while racing one mile over Santa Anita’s dirt surface in an allowance race on Feb. 9. He had arrived in this country with a 2-2-2 record from six starts in England. The Baffle’s winning purse of $44,400 more than doubled his European earnings of $21,568.
First post for Thursday’s program of eight races is scheduled for 1 p.m. The Pick Six sequence begins with the third race.