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Jose Lezcano celebrates aboard Ron the Greek.
The $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1) is one of the premier races on the west coast, featuring top older horses going 1 1/4 miles on the main track in Arcadia, California. It was a picture perfect afternoon, with 26,147 fans at Santa Anita Park enjoying sunny skies and temperatures in the high 70's. Ultimate Eagle was sent off as the 2-1 favorite in the field of 13, off his 7 length romp in the Strub Stakes (G2) last time out. In to challenge him included 3-1 second choice Setsuko off an allowance win at Santa Anita on February 4, and 7-2 third choice Ron the Greek, second in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream after winning the Queens County at Aqueduct.
Ron the Greek starts to draw away in the stretch
Ultimate Eagle and 18-1 Gladding dueled for the lead for the first 3/4 mile through quick fractions of 22.26, 44.55 and 1:09.08, with 69-1 longshot Victory Pete stalking them in third. On the far turn, Ultimate Eagle opened up a 1 1/2 length lead through a mile in 1:34.14. With 3/16 remaining, Ultimate Eagle tired, as Ron the Greek, 9th early, to move up to take the lead while chased by Setsuko. In the final furlong, Ron the Greek drew clear to win by 3 1/2 lengths in 2:00.41 over the fast track. It was just 1/2 a length back from Setsuko to late-running 14-1 Uh Oh Bango third, while favorite Ultimate Eagle checked in 10th.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 3 Ron the Greek Lezcano 9.20 4.40 3.40 9 Setsuko Espinoza 3.60 2.80 1 Uh Oh Bango Smith 6.60 Winning Time: 2:00.41 $1 Exacta 3-9 19.90 $1 Trifecta 3-9-1 138.60 $1 Superfecta 3-9-1-12 797.10
Ron the Greek in the winner's circle. Rodolphe Brisset, assistant to winning trainer Bill Mott said, "There was a lot of speed in the race. We just wanted to stalk the pace and see what happens. We were not expected 44 on the lead. That's sprinting. (Lezcano) did very good to make a move on the backside and give him a little break on the turn and he just came running again, so it was a very good race. This is my first time at Santa Anita. I came 6 months ago to Hollywood Park and we won the Shoemaker with Courageous Cat, so that's two trips to California and we won two Grade 1's, so I like to come here."
Jockey Jose Lezcano said, "I didn't want to be on the inside so I had to use him the whole way to make him keep going. At the 1/2 mile pole I had a lot of horse, but I had to keep asking my horse. My horse is like a bicycle, you keep asking and he will keep running. The last three races he has been improving. His last race in Florida he was racing a shorter distance and the other horse opened up early and I couldn't catch him. He was really coming the last three-sixteenths, but the other horse opened up too early."
Left: Second place finisher Setsuko in the paddock. Jockey Victor Espinoza said, "There was the three horse, he was inside of me and I wanted to just beat him and jump first on him. He ran an awesome race. He's coming back with the second race after such a long layoff. He will be better next time. He set up very nice for me. I had a very nice clean trip which always helps in the big races. That's all you can do."
Right: Third place finisher Uh Oh Bango in the paddock. The 14-1 shot was last early under jockey Mike Smith, then closed well 5 wide to get third beaten 4 lengths. The Kory Owens trainee improved his record to 5 wins, 6 seconds, and 3 thirds in 19 starts, earning $662,712 for owner-breeder Triple AAA Ranch.
Tenth place finisher and beaten favorite Ultimate Eagle in the post parade. His trainer Mike Pender said, "(Joel Rosario aboard Gladding was) hell-bent on getting the lead and when you go 44 and change going 1 1/4... like we said, anybody who tries to chase us is going to pay the price, and Gladding was hitting the reverse button at the 3/8 pole. We kept on going, credit to our horse. You can't go 1 1/4 in 44 and change, it's literally impossible, unless you're Secretariat."
Willyconker (center) takes the lead in the stretch
Jockey Corey Nakatani sent 14-1 Jimmy Simms to the lead and he set fractions of 23.17, 46.95, and 1:10.62 over the firm course while pressed by Compari, with 10-1 Willyconker stalking the lead pair in third. At the top of the lane, Compari took over the lead from the tiring Jimmy Simms, getting 7/8 in 1:22.34. Willyconker came through between the leaders to gain the lead at the 1/16 pole, and was all out to hold off late-running favorite Mr. Commons by a neck, completing the trip in 1:33.88. It was a length back to Compari third.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 3 Willyconker Rosario 23.20 6.00 3.60 1 Mr. Commons Smith 2.80 2.20 4 Compari Bejarano 3.40 Winning Time: 1:33.88 $1 Exacta 3-1 24.10 $1 Trifecta 3-1-4 97.00 $1 Superfecta 3-1-4-5 199.50
Left: Willyconker in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Doug O'Neill said, "What a great ride. That's why you use a guy like Rosario. He just had him in a perfect spot and then as soon as they turned for home, he got in the right line and just got it done."
Right: Willyconker in the post parade. Winning jockey Joel Rosario said, "The race set up perfect for me today. I just tried to lay in behind the speed, save ground and make one run with him. He tried hard today to beat Mr. Commons and ran a really good race today. I was very happy to turn the tables on Mr. Commons today; my horse gave everything he had. I just tried to run my race and see how far I could go."
Left: Second place finisher and beaten favorite Mr. Commons in the post parade. Jockey Mike Smith said, "He ran great. I had 1/8 mile to get by him, and I didn't do it. That's pretty much what it is. He was a bit dull on his punch. He's got a quicker turn of foot than that. He accelerated really well for about three jumps, and then he kind of hung at that point, kind of idled. I reached back and encouraged him a time or two with the stick, and that didn't seem to help. He kind of pinned his ears back, and I went to a hand ride, using the reins. But the winner never folded. They went a mile in 33, so I can't complain. It was a good race. We'll just have to come back and see if we can get them next time."
Right: Third place finisher Compari in the paddock. the 6-1 third choice pressed the pace under jockey Rafael Bejarano, led in deep stretch, but could not hold off the first two finishers. The Martin Jones trainee improved his record to 8 wins, 1 second, and 2 thirds in 15 starts, earning $606,430 for owners and breeders Harris Farms, John Nicoletti, and Donald Valpredo.
Eden's Moon draws off in the stretch
Jockey Martin Garcia sent Eden's Moon to the front first time by and she set fractions of 23.16, 46.47, and 1:10.44 while pressed by Reneesgotzip to her outside. Eden's Moon and Reneesgotzip bumped at the 1/8 pole through 7/8 in 1:22.53, before Eden's Moon drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths in 1:35.27 over the fast track. It was another 2 3/4 lengths back to late-running 31-1 Open Water third. Trainer Peter Miller of Reneesgotzip claimed foul against jockey Martin Garcia aboard Eden's Moon for interference but the stewards ruled that Reneesgotzip was responsible for the contact, leaving the order of finish unchanged.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 5 Eden's Moon Garcia 7.00 3.60 3.40 7 Reneesgotzip Nakatani 3.00 3.00 8 Open Water Espinoza 7.00 Winning Time: 1:35.27 $1 Exacta 5-7 8.40 $1 Trifecta 5-7-8 101.10 $1 Superfecta 5-7-8-3 581.50
Left: Eden's Moon in the winner's circle. Winning jockey Martin Garcia said, "She's a really good filly. Even though they put pressure on her right out of the gate, she relaxed for me. (Reneesgotzip with Corey Nakatani) pressed me real hard going to the far turn and she bumped my filly's hind end which turned her a little sideways and she switched leads."
Right: Winning trainer Bob Baffert gives Eden's Moon a pat. Baffert said, "I was hoping we'd be on the lead, get her out there and get her into a groove. I felt we could handle the distance. When Reneesgotzip went wide on the (first) turn, she eased off of us, so that was good. She's getting better and better at a distance. Distance is not a problem for her. I don't know if (the Santa Anita Oaks) will be next. We'll see how she comes out of this and keep her happy. We want to take her to the Kentucky Oaks, so that's what we're pointing for."
Left: Second place finisher and beaten favorite Reneesgotzip returns after the race. Jockey Corey Nakatani said, "You can see where she shifts out and Martin hits my horse across the face with the whip twice. My filly just popped her head up. As far as I know, the rules state that you're supposed to take the horse down when that happens. I was going two to his one at that point, and Martin shifted out, and we bushed a little bit, and when he hit his filly, he hit my horse twice in the face with the whip." Trainer Peter Miller added, "We'll point her toward the Santa Anita Oaks. I don't see any reason why not. She got hit with the whip in the face."
Right: Third place finisher Open Water in the paddock. The 31-1 shot was 7th early under jockey Victor Espinoza, then passed tiring horses late to get third beaten 6 lengths. The Eric Guillot trainee improved her record to 2 wins, 0 seconds, and 2 thirds in 6 starts, earning $63,500 for owner Southern Equine Stable.
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