Del Mar, Horse racing, Kentucky Derby, Santa Anita, Triple Crown

On to Kentucky for California Chrome

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California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza return to the winner’s circle after winning Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby. BENOIT PHOTO

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The overwhelming sentiment when leaving Santa Anita Park in Arcadia on Saturday was that everyone saw the winner of next month’s Kentucky Derby. Heck, he might finally break the drought of Triple Crown winners.

And they well have, but maybe it wasn’t the horse you’re thinking about.

There’s no doubt that California Chrome was spectacular in winning Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby. But will he be the winner on the first Saturday of May in Louisville, Ky.

The thing you have to remember is there will be a full field of 20 horses at Churchill Downs. There will be all kinds of trouble for all kinds of horses. There will be horses that don’t belong, and California Chrome surely isn’t one of those, but he could get stopped by one who is. Remember funny things happen in 20-horse fields.

I hope California Chrome wins it for trainer Art Sherman and jockey Victor Espinoza and to stick it to the “bluebloods,” but I know too many things can go wrong. It just seems amazing to me that California Chrome was running last summer in Cal-bred races and now maybe the betting favorite in Kentucky. It brings back fond memories of Silver Charm, one of my all-time favorites.

Hoppertunity, who finished second to California Chrome, certainly belongs in the equation. He has run three good races in a row.

And perhaps the most impressive 3-year-old winner Saturday was Wicked Strong taking the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, seemingly passing the entire field in the stretch.

Personally, I’m keeping my eye on Commanding Curve, who finished third in the Louisiana Derby, to see if he gets in.

And don’t forget there are two more big preps this coming Saturday with the Blue Grass at Keeneland and the Arkansas Derby at Hot Spring, Ark.

Wait until all the data is in and then make your decision. Just think how many other times have you left Santa Anita on its Derby Day saying you thought you saw the winner of the Kentucky Derby?

You might have and you might not.

@Jeff_Nahill on Twitter

Saturday’s top choice winners: 0

Saturday’s second choice winners: 3 (Fashion Plate $6.20, fifth race; Nashoba’s Gold $7.40, seventh; Kerrilynn $10.60, 11th)

Saturday’s third choice winners: 4 (Reno Rebel $6.80, first; Storm Fighter $6.40, second; California Chrome $3.40, eighth; Seeking the Sherif $9.80, 10th)

Saturday’s long shot winners: 1 (Alert Bay $20.20, third)

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Sunday’s top choice winners: 1 (Crusher $7.60, first race)

Sunday’s second choice winners: 3 (Big Note $10.40, fourth; Congregationalist $11.80, seventh; Perfect Tango $7, ninth)

Sunday’s third choice winners: 0

Sunday’s long shot winners: 1 (Jules Journey $14.40, sixth)

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Horse racing, Kentucky Derby, Triple Crown

Rebel Stakes: What they said

Quotes courtesy of Oaklawn Park following Hoppertunity’s win in Saturday’s Rebel Stakes:

Mike Pegram (owner, Hoppertunity, 1st): “Bob (Baffert, trainer) is in charge and he knows what to do. I’m just having fun being a passenger. He looks like he’ll go a mile-and-a-quarter and I wouldn’t trade places with nobody. He’s a nice horse and he proved it today. What you really want to see is a horse that will fight, and he showed it when he got bumped in there and held his ground. He responded. He’s a fighter. We will run is some Derby. His next race will be a derby if he comes out good out of here.”

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Jimmy Barnes (assistant to Baffert, Hoppertunity, 1st): “That was exciting. Wow. I saw what happened in the race live and I was saying to myself, that kid (Santana, Jr. on Tapiture) is trying to push us out of the way to get by. We had enough horse that he wasn’t getting by. Mike (Smith) said he just started running when he got bumped. That just made him run faster. He’s tough. He’s lightly raced. That was only his fourth race so that was exciting and I’m glad we came. Whether we come back for the Arkansas Derby is up to Bob.”

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Steve Asmussen (Tapiture, 2nd) – “He ran well. It was a pretty roughly run race by some fast horses.”

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Kent Desormeaux (Ride On Curlin, 3rd) – “I tell you, I fancy him. I like him a lot. At the half-mile pole, I thought I could win. The only thing I didn’t like was my post. I think if I had had an outside post, it would have been better. I was kind of committed from where I was. But, he was comfortable. He’s like riding a 9-year-old he’s so cool.”

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D. Wayne Lukas (4th Strong Mandate): “We haven’t been able to get a clean trip yet. We got roughed up more than was indicated. I don’t yet what’s next for him. We haven’t even gotten him cooled out yet. The Arkansas Derby is a month away.”

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Association Steward Larry Snyder on the decision not to change the order of finish after an inquiry and jockey objection: “We based our decision on the fact that Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. on Tapiture pushed his way out from behind the four horse (Strong Mandate) as the horses were straightening out into the stretch. Jockey Mike Smith was just holding his position.”

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Horse racing, Kentucky Derby, Santa Anita, Triple Crown

Will Chrome get rusty if he skips Santa Anita Derby?

From Ed Golden of the Santa Anita publicity department:

ARCADIA — The pressure is off Art Sherman. By earning 50 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby with California Chrome’s dazzling victory in Saturday’s San Felipe Stakes, the door to Louisville and the Run for the Roses on May 3 was opened wide.

All the 77-year-old trainer has to do now is keep the colt healthy and pick and choose the best way to get to Churchill Downs for the 140thrunning of the world’s most famous horse race.

“He came out of the race good; he looked good this morning,” Sherman said by phone early Sunday from his Los Alamitos headquarters. “I was here really early to make sure. You get a little nervous thinking about it.

“I’m not making any plans (for his next race), you know what I mean? I’m in the Derby now; I’ve got enough points. That took a lot of pressure off me. I’m just going to play it by ear. There is a chance we might go to the Santa Anita Derby (Grade I, $1 million, April 5).

“The horse has to let me know. He came out of the race good, he ate up last night. I was happy. He’s a cool horse. I just don’t want to do too much with him. We’re on the Derby trail and I know it’s tough. I’ve been there before as a kid with other people’s horses, but I know how grueling it is getting up to that point.”

As a teenage “kid,” Sherman went to work for Rex Ellsworth and accompanied the mighty California-bred Swaps to the Derby in 1955 and later to Chicago for his match race against the vaunted Nashua.

Now California Chrome will seek to become the first Cal-bred to win the Derby since Decidedly in 1962.

“He’s Derby-bound,” the Brooklyn-born Sherman said after Saturday’s romp. “He looked like Swaps turning down the lane. I was amazed. You think a horse might win by a length or two. I’m not used to seeing him draw off by five or six.

“He’s peaking at the right time. The horse has been super, he’s putting on weight, he looked excellent in the paddock. I said, ‘My, he looks like a race horse today.’”

Sherman, a former jockey who enjoyed his best year as a trainer in 2007 when he won 207 races and gleaned $4,023,669 in purse money, isn’t about to be counting his roses before they bloom.

“I still have to go to Kentucky and try the big boys,” he said. “So far, all this has been great, not only for me and the horse, but for (owners/breeders) Steve (Coburn) and Perry (Martin). We’re just a mom and pop operation.”

If luck holds, the family will be growing.

Added Victor Espinoza, who rode California Chrome to a 7 ¼-length victory, the largest winning margin in the San Felipe at the distance of 1 1/16 miles since Premier Pegasus posted a 7 ¾-length romp under Alonso Quinonez for Myung Kwon Cho in 2005:

“Yesterday was his most impressive race since I’ve been riding him, but I believe he still has more left. I just took it easy with him yesterday. I think he’ll be even better at a mile and a quarter. We’ll find out how good he is as we go along, but he’s an amazing horse right now.”

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Sunday’s top choice winners: 2 (Prince of Paris $8, second race; Judy the Beauty $3, seventh)

Sunday’s second choice winners: 1 (Fit to Rule $22.40, fifth)

Sunday’s third choice winners: 3 (Keyboard Courage $5.60, first; Sagebrush Queen $7.40, third; Fort Wagner $30.60, fourth)

Sunday’s long shot winners: 0

@Jeff_Nahill on Twitter

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Horse racing, Triple Crown

Lukas not happy with Strong Mandate’s Rebel effort?

Sounds like trainer D. Wayne Lukas wasn’t all that happy with Strong Mandate’s second place finish in Monday’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

Quotes are courtesy of the Oaklawn Park media department:

Lukas: “He ran well. He didn’t have the cleanest of trips. We had wanted to be more forwardly placed, but he got bumped leaving the gate and was actually wide the whole trip. The winner ran exceptional. We’ll just go back to the barn and look at the Rebel Stakes (March 15).”

Jockey Joel Rosario, on Strong Mandate: “He broke a little slow. In the first turn, I wanted to get into position, but I couldn’t. I had to hold a bit because a few horses were bouncing in and out. He’s the kind of horse you need to let run easy. He’s a big horse and you want to let him do what he wants. Maybe next time we’ll get a better trip.”

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Winning trainer Steve Asmussen, Tapiture: “It was a big step forward for him. I was impressed with  what he did. I saw some things we need to improve and he’ll have to continue to improve with the races coming up. I think the series sets up really well for him.”

Winning jockey Ricardo Santana Jr, Tapiture: “This horse was working really nice. I was so excited for this race. When we got to the straight, he showed all his class. He was really nice and was really relaxed today.”

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Trainer Billy Gowan, third with Ride OnCurlin: “He ran a heck of a race. He was hung nine wide and he got a little bit tired. We’ll be back for the Rebel.”

Jockey Calvin Borel, third with Ride OnCurlin: “He ran good. He broke sharp. He got hung a little wide going into the first turn and he didn’t like that. I had to take him back and let him go about his business. He got a little heavy at the end.”

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Jockey Terry Thompson on Kendall’s Boy, “He had a real rough trip. He got banged up basically from when the gates opened until he just gave up on me. He never go into stride. It was his first time going two turns and we needed everything to go right. Hard to go off of this one.”

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