With most of the focus this weekend on the eastern tracks and the Triple Crown preps, Santa Anita in California featured a different set of horses. The first two-year-old race of the year was run on Thursday, while on Saturday, some of the best turf horses of the west coast gathered for the Grade 2 San Luis Rey Handicap, a 1 1/2 mile event with a purse of $200,000.
Meteor Storm wins the San Luis Rey Handicap over Labirinto and Gene de Campeao.
Sent off as the lukewarm 3-1 favorite in the field of ten was Puerto Banus, with Runaway Dancer the second choice at 5-1. When the gate opened, 19-1 longshot Toccet was gunned immediately to the front by jockey Martin Pedroza, and like he did at the Breeders' Cup Turf over the same course and distance, led the field through a brisk early pace of 23.31, :47.32, and 1:12.09. 17-1 shot Asong for Billy kept in contention with him around the first two turns of the three-turn trip. Going a mile in 1:37.88 and 1 1/4 in 2:02.18, Toccet set the race up perfectly for the late closers then faded badly in the stretch to eventually finish seventh. The 33-1 longest shot Gene de Campeao, who stalked Toccet in third early on, challenged for the lead early in the stretch and had the lead at the 1/8 pole. 8-1 shot Meteor Storm, who stalked the pace back in fourth the whole way around, came out three wide on the third turn and drove strongly through the lane to collar the longshot at the 1/16 pole, and held off the very late run of 4-1 shot Labirinto to win by a neck in 2:26.03 over the firm course. It was 3/4 length back to Gene de Campeao in third, and another 3/4 back to Runaway Dancer who finished well but was left with too much to do through the stretch. Favored Puerto Banus was unhurried early on, made a mild rally on the far turn but was flat through the stretch and finished fifth. Results Chart
Jockey Jose Valdivia and Meteor Storm return after winning the San Luis Rey Handicap.
Winning jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. said, "I had a perfect trip. I settled behind the leaders. They were setting, I thought, a decent pace. And this horse has got a turn of foot. For a horse that will go a mile and a half he's got a real turn of foot, and I knew it would take a very special horse to beat me as we turned for home. It was a very, very game performance."
Trainer Wally Dollase
Winning trainer Wally Dollase said, "I thought Toccet would go flying and try and steal it but it didn't work out that way at all. I said there'd probably be a lot more pace (today) and Jose (Valdivia Jr.) agreed and didn't want to rush him. He knew he had speed and could kick down the stretch and that's the way it worked. It couldn't have been a better picture because it happened exactly how we talked about it. We'll go in the San Juan Capistrano (April 18) next providing he comes out OK."
Javier Santiago, aboard second place finisher Labirinto, said, "He broke with me, then just settled back on his own. I waited and just made one move. I had no doubt I could catch him." Trainer Leonard Powell said that he too would go on to the San Juan Capistrano.
Victor Espinoza, aboard beaten favorite and fifth place finisher Puerto Banus said, "I think it was just one of those races. He ran so hard last time (San Luis Obispo), and to come back in three weeks, I think he just needs a little more time. He still ran great, when I turned for home I thought I was going to win until the last sixteenth of a mile."
Santa Anita's first 2-year-old race of the season gets off to a good start.
On Thursday, the first race on the card was the first "baby race" of the year on the west coast. Ten California-bred two-year-olds (of which three were fillies) went to the gate for the very short 2 furlong dash down the straight. In this event blinkers and whips were not allowed. 2-1 second choice Rednaround broke sharply inward but once straightened by jockey David Nuesch, was all business as he took command by the midpoint of the race and drew away to win by five lengths in 21.86 seconds for trainer Jeff Mullins. 10-1 shot Preemptor was second, having passed 9-5 favorite Shermanthetank in the final strides to get the placing by 1/2 a length.
Rednaround returns after winning Santa Anita's first 'baby" race of the season