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Mike Smith celebrates aboard Game On Dude after winning the Big Cap.
The highlight race of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting is the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1), featuring the best older handicap horses on the west coast going 1 1/4 miles over the main track in Arcadia before 27,121 fans in attendance. Conditions were excellent with clear skies, a fast track and temperatures in the low 80's. As expected, Mucho Macho Man was sent off as the 6-5 favorite in the field of 8, off a 3 race winning streak including the Awesome Again (G1), the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), and the Sunshine Millions Classic. In to challenge him included 3-2 second choice Will Take Charge, runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Classic before winning the Clark Handicap (G1) and second in the Donn Handicap (G1), and 7-2 third choice Game On Dude, winner in 2011 and 2013 trying to become the race's only 3-time winner but winless since last year's Pacific Classic (G1).
Game On Dude draw aways in the stretch
20-1 Hear the Ghost and Game On Dude sprinted away from the gate with Hear the Ghost getting the opening quarter in 22.91 before Game On Dude with jockey Mike Smith pulled away from him on the clubhouse turn, opening up a 2 1/2 length lead through a half in 45.39 and 3/4 in 1:09.39. Will Take Charge, who sat fourth early behind favorite Mucho Macho Man, moved up to second on the clubhouse turn as Game On Dude got 1 mile in 1:32.57. However, Game On Dude had plenty left, cruising past the winning post 1 3/4 lengths clear in a time of 1:58.17. It was a long 8 lengths back from Will Take Charge to 23-1 Blingo third, while favorite Mucho Macho Man checked in fourth.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 7 Game On Dude Smith 9.60 3.60 3.60 1 Will Take Charge Saez 3.00 2.60 3 Blingo Gryder 5.40 Winning Time: 1:58.17 $1 Exacta 7-1 14.60 $1 Trifecta 7-1-3 95.80 $1 Superfecta 7-1-3-2 217.10
Left: Game On Dude in the winner's circle as the only 3-time Big Cap winner. Winning trainer Bob Baffert said, "They went fast but he was rockin', he was rollin'. The Dude showed up. Last time (the San Antonio), he wasn't ready. He had to do it today. I just told Mike Smith, 'When they expect you to be on the lead, you have to be on the lead. Just let him rip, do his thing and if it happens, it happens.' Bernie (Schiappa) is the only (owner) here today. To me, it's an emotional win for the horse. It kills me when they knock on him, but we came in here quiet and that's the way I like to come in. We came in under the radar and we were ready for them.
Right: Game On Dude in the paddock. Jockey Mike Smith said, "He was on his toes today, he was on fire. He's like that when he runs well. He ran big; I just had that feeling that he was going to. Down the backside he was happy, he was cruisin', he was well within himself. He was throwing numbers, I knew we were going fast; I actually went even faster this time than I did (in the San Antonio). I got yelled at for going fast last time and that was 46; we went 45 today and that's at 1 1/4! Bob told me to trust him, that I would have a different horse this time. He didn't think he had him exactly where he wanted him for the San Antonio. Bob told me not to be down, that he didn't have him ready. He had him 110 percent today and when it comes to Bob, that's who you want to be riding for on big days. When he shows up he can run with anybody in the world. We may throw in a dud every now and then but he makes up for it!"
Left: Second place finisher Will Take Charge in the post parade. Jockey Luis Saez said, "He ran so hard. He's very good and was in good position all the way. At the 1/2 mile pole, I saw Game On Dude going so comfortably. My horse still ran good. It's OK. I wanted to be following Mucho Macho Man, because I thought that was the horse with the best chance to win."
Right: Third place finisher Blingo in the post parade. Jockey Aaron Gryder said, "He ran great. We knew we were up against some very good horses and he had to step up and I do believe he did. He ran a very good race. His first time going 1 1/4 and he cut it real nice. He gave a good account of himself. It was his first time going the distance and he was still running down the lane. He had to run to pass Mucho Macho Man and I was very pleased with his effort. He runs hard. He's improving."
Fourth place finisher and beaten favorite Mucho Macho Man in the paddock. Jockey Gary Stevens said, "He broke real well for me, and I was actually in a pretty good spot, and then (Rousing Sermon) came up on me and made him move right along. I slipped to the outside, where I wanted to be, going into the back stretch. (Will Take Charge) attacked me about the 1/2 mile pole. That probably was a winning move had Game On Dude not been on his game today. I was basically empty at the 3/8 pole. That's a bad feeling in a race like this and on a horse like that when you know at the 3/8 pole that you don't have a chance to win I was fourth-best, and the champ arrived again today at Santa Anita, and Will Take Charge was second-best.
Winning Prize (outside) holds off Lochte in the stretch
Jockey Corey Nakatani sent Winning Prize to the lead first time by and he set fractions of 21.17, 46.47, and 1:09.31 over the firm course while pressed by 11-1 Tom's Tribute. Entering the lane, 8-1 Lochte, third early, moved up to challenge through 7/8 in 1:20.72 but Winning Prize held him off by 1/2 a length at the line, getting the trip in 1:32.44. It was another length back to 12-1 Suggestive Boy third, while favorite Za Approval was fourth.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 6 Winning Prize Nakatani 9.60 5.00 3.40 1 Lochte Bocachica 9.20 6.20 4 Suggestive Boy Talamo 6.80 Winning Time: 1:32.44 $1 Exacta 6-1 50.40 $1 Trifecta 6-1-4 434.50 $1 Superfecta 6-1-4-5 1,647.50
Left: Winning Prize in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Neil Drysdale said, "We were expecting the other horse to go to the lead. When he took him back, it left us on the lead, and he wasn't pressured badly, we went 23 and change, 46 and change. That horse is just quality. It makes a big difference when you can get away with an easy first 1/2 mile. That set us up well. He quickened well in the stretch. He's changed and relaxes in his races. He's becoming more adaptable the more we race him."
Right: Winning Prize returns after the race. Winning jockey Corey Nakatani said, "I talked to Neil about it this morning and we felt we were ready if he was going to go ahead and go and do his thing. We knew we could track him. I know this horse didn't have to be on the lead, but today, it was coming easy to him, and I wasn't going to take it away. Whatever he was comfortable with, we were going to do. We were getting a little bit of pressure, but I was able to get him relaxed. He had his ears pricked, and it was just nice and comfortable. He likes that high cruising speed, and we let him do the running, and he showed he was the best one today."
Left: Second place finisher Lochte in the post parade. Trainer Marcus Vitali said, "I thought the ride was spectacular. Going a flat mile, I thought we had him tuned up for the flat mile. Orlando (Bocachica, jockey) did a great job. He sat there, he was patient. He saved ground. The fence opened up a little bit and he made his big run. (Winning Prize) seemed to be a little bit better today, but overall, I'm pleased with everything. We shipped from Florida about 8 days ago. I got here two days ago and watched him train yesterday. Everything seemed on target and I'm very pleased."
Right: Third place finisher Suggestive Boy in the paddock. Fernando Fantini, racing manager for trainer Ron McAnally said, "This is a gift. He had a health problem 8 months ago. He was supposed to not run ever again. He ran the Arcadia and wasn't 100 percent, and now he's starting to get back. Dr. (Larry) Bramlage said the horse could run again, and he was right. It's absolutely a good feeling, we're very happy."
Fourth place finisher and beaten favorite Za Approval in the paddock before the race. Christophe Lorieul, assistant to trainer Christophe Clement said, "I thought he might have tired a little bit. When you looked at the fractions, they were pretty decent. We're disappointed, but I think he might have needed a race."
California Chrome draws off in the stretch
Jockey Victor Espinoza sent California Chrome to the lead and he set fractions of 23.09, 45.55, and 1:09.45 while pressed by Midnight Hawk the whole way. Entering the stretch, Espinoza asked California Chrome for run and the favorite quickly left the field behind, finishing 7 1/4 lengths in front of Midnight Hawk in 1:40.59. It was another 6 1/4 lengths back to late-running Kristo third.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 4 California Chrome Espinoza 4.80 2.60 2.10 9 Midnight Hawk Smith 3.00 2.20 7 Kristo Rosario 2.60 Winning Time: 1:40.59 $1 Exacta 4-9 6.20 $1 Trifecta 4-9-7 10.40 $1 Superfecta 4-9-7-8 25.30
Left: California Chrome in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Art Sherman said, "I didn't think he'd be on the lead, but he was a handful today. I just told Victor ‘You got him.' I told him he broke like that because of that Quarter Horse training at Los Alamitos . . . We all know Santa Anita's a speed-biased type of track, so it was really great to see him with the hold he had on him. It's unbelievable. I'm looking at the race saying, ‘Well, I hope that horse (Midnight Hawk) doesn't press him too hard, but I'll tell you, when he asked him to go, he looked like a fresh horse. I think I deserve to go to the (Kentucky) Derby. I don't think the distance will make any difference, 1 1/4 miles."
Right: California Chrome returns after the race. Winning jockey Victor Espinoza said, "He ran like I expected him to. I wanted to try something new today so I let him go right out of the gate. I don't know if people expected me to go right to the lead but I wanted to let him enjoy his race, I just let him go. In these races, you can't just try and do too much with them. I think it's important for him to do his thing for the first 5/8 and be happy. It seems like he likes both tracks. He's been training over at Los Al but he does things so much easier at Santa Anita after having trained at Los Al. He didn't feel tired at all after the wire."
Left: Second place finisher Midnight Hawk in the post parade. Trainer Bob Baffert said, "I told Mike, ‘That's the horse you've got to beat.' It was a two-horse race going in. He ran good. My horse ran huge. I was a little disappointed running second-- he ran with that horse, but he couldn't sustain it, and he got a little tired there at the end. You don't want to see a horse go out that fast. When it gets warm like this, the track gets pretty fast. It's pretty speed-biased. The horse that won it, he's a good horse."
Right: Third place finisher Kristo in the paddock. The 7-2 third choice raced fifth early under jockey Joel Rosario, then passed tiring horses to get third beaten 13 1/2 lengths. The John Sadler trainee improved his record to 1 win, 3 seconds, and 1 third in 5 starts, earning $109,400 for owner Hronis Racing.
Saraha Sky rallies on the outside in the stretch
9-1 Big Macher and 22-1 Cyclometer battled for the lead down the backstretch and around the turn through fractions of 22.72 and 44.77. At the top of the lane Cyclometer tired allowing Big Macher to lead through 3/4 in 1:08.48. However, Sahara Sky, 8th early, came through between horses and rallied late to win by 1/2 a length in 1:20.84. It was a head back to 38-1 Clubhouse Ride third, while favorite Shakin It Up checked in fifth.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 1 Sahara Sky Rosario 3.60 2.40 2.10 4 Big Macher Saez 2.80 2.40 2 Clubhouse Baze 3.20 Winning Time: 1:20.84 $1 Exacta 1-4 36.70 $1 Trifecta 1-4-2 755.70 $1 Superfecta 1-4-2-6 3,683.50
Left: Sahara Sky in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said, "The pace set up real well for him." Asked if the No. 1 post position was a concern: "No, not for him, because he comes from out of it anyway. I just told Joel to help him away from there a little bit and not let him get 15 (lengths) out of it. My eyes were on Wild Dude because he was the one that was prevalent coming down the lane. I thought he was going to win, then I saw Sahara Sky come on the outside. (Sahara Sky) won the Met Mile last year and probably that would be the point race for him this year." Owner Kim Lloyd added, "He's run so well fresh, and when he didn't run his best race (fifth in the Palos Verdes), we felt he wasn't fit. Obviously, that was the case, but you always wonder, and he settled that for us today."
Right: Sahara Sky in the paddock. Winning jockey Joel Rosario said, "It was a really good ride. He was in a little bit of trouble turning for home. I had to try and find some room and as soon as someone gave me enough room I tried to find my way through, and when I asked him he was good. He was good after all that."
Left: Second place finisher Big Macher in the paddock. Trainer Richard Baltas said, "I thought he ran great. He did exactly what I told him. He didn't need to lead if he didn't have to and I think he rode him well. We got beat by a Grade I horse. The game plan was to break sharp and place the horse after that. He does have a lot of speed and he can carry it, but I didn't want to get him caught behind horses drawing in. I told him to break him and put him in the race and if he gets the lead, fine. If someone else wants the lead, that's OK, too. He rode him perfect."
Right: Third place finisher Clubhouse in the post parade. Trainer Craig Lewis said, "I lost so much time with him and with the rain (last week) I couldn't do what I wanted to do with him. That's why I went in here (instead of the Santa Anita Handicap)."
Fifth place finisher and beaten favorite Shakin It Up in the paddock. The 7-5 favorite raced 7th early under jockey Mike Smith and put in a mild rally finishing 5th beaten 1 3/4 lengths. The Bob Baffert trainee has a record of 4 wins, 1 second, and 1 third in 8 starts, earning $492,600 for owner-breeder Mike Pegram and Dennis Cardoza.
The $75,000 China Doll Stakes featured a field of 13 three-year-old fillies going 1 mile on the turf. 36-1 Uzziel battled for the earl;y lead with 5-2 favorite On the Backstreets through fractions of 22.72, 46.34, and 1:10.75. On the Backstreets opened up a 1 1/2 length lead midstretch through 7/8 in 1:22.61, beforer tiring. 3-1 third choice Diversy Harbor, 9th early, closed 5 wide to win by 1/2 a length over 6-1 Nashoba's Gold in 1:34.36. It was a length back to 89-1 longest shot Tiz Kissable third, and head more to favorite On the Backstreets fourth.
Winning jockey Gary Stevens said, "She was real green the last time she ran. Sometimes they don't come back and run as well. The (first) race really helped her. She went the other way. She acted like she'd run 20 times." Trainer Craig Dollase added, "She's got a lot of talent. It's a matter of her maturing. She's trained well since her last race, but she's still a little green."
Results Chart from DRF.
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