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, 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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Breeders' Cup, Horse racing, Santa Anita

Will Take Charge to face Mucho Macho Man in Big ‘Cap

From Ed Golden of the Santa Anita publicity department:

“We’re coming.”

With those words this morning from D. Wayne Lukas, the stage is set for one of the most eagerly anticipated rematches in recent memory, one between Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge in the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on March 8.

The two handicap stars finished a scant nose apart in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita last Nov. 2. The Lukas-trained Will Take Charge, Eclipse Award winner as outstanding 3-year-old of 2013, was second in the Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in his 2014 debut on Feb. 9.

With two-time Santa Anita Handicap winner and defending champion Game On Dude waiting in the wings for the mile and a quarter Big ‘Cap, story lines abound for the 77th edition of the historic race, which has been won by turf legends such as Seabiscuit, Noor, Round Table, Ack Ack, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, John Henry, Best Pal and Lava Man, among many others.

Mucho Macho Man, 14-length winner of the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 18, committed to Santa Anita’s signature race on Saturday when trainer Kathy Ritvo and Finn Green, Racing Manager for owners Dean and Patti Reeves, announced they would be coming to Santa Anita for the Big ‘Cap.

Pending flight arrangements, Lukas said he hoped to ship Will Take Charge to California on “March 3 or 4.” Mucho Macho Man is scheduled to work Saturday in Florida and ship to California the following day, Sunday, Feb. 23.

Meanwhile, the countdown is on to March 8.

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Horse racing, Santa Anita

PVal ready to ride Santa Anita’s opening day

From Ed Golden’s Santa Anita notes on Wednesday:

P. Val’s back and Santa Anita has him.

The 51-year-old jockey–full handle, Patrick Valenzuela–resumes riding at The Great Race Place when it opens on Dec. 26. A fixture in Southern California since he began his career in 1978, Valenzuela has made more comebacks than Brett Favre, overcoming numerous injuries and substance abuse issues, but has never lost his zeal for the game.

His ability on horseback has never been questioned.

“I’ve been out here working every morning, just getting ready for the Big Meet,” said Valenzuela, exhibiting the same unbridled enthusiasm that has become his signature trait.

“I’ve got some good calls and hopefully we’ll get lucky and get a couple winners right away and get rolling.” Agent Tom Knust represents Valenzuela.

Valenzuela, the youngest jockey ever to win a Santa Anita Derby at 17 aboard Codex for D. Wayne Lukas in 1980, has not ridden competitively since Oct. 11. He was winless in 12 rides at Santa Anita’s Autumn meet.

“I got sick during the fall meet here and I lost a lot of weight,” said Valenzuela, whose most memorable victory came aboard 1989 Horse of the Year Sunday Silence in that year’s Kentucky Derby. “My immune system was down and I got a pretty bad sinus infection.

“I went to the doctor and had to take a couple days off. It came at the wrong time, but I decided to give it more time and get healthy the right way.

“My weight’s good. I’ll probably be doing 18 (tacking 118 pounds) opening day and hopefully continue doing that for the rest of my career.”

Among Valenzuela’s 13 riding titles is the 2002-03 crown at Santa Anita, where he won 94 races, outdistancing runner-up David Flores, who won 69.

Although he’s won only four races this year according to Equibase statistics, Valenzuela has 4,346 career wins, with purse earnings of $165,266,242.

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Other jockey news from Golden’s notes:

+ Trainer Jeff Mullins is a staunch proponent of Tyler Baze. The 31-year-old rider is nearing his return from a lengthy suspension for violation of alcohol abuse. “It’s like he never left,” Mullins said, addressing Baze’s skill in the saddle. “I think he’s getting plenty of support. He’s working nine or 10 head a day. He’s working horses on the training track and everything . . . I think he’s got a pretty strong fan base.” Baze has been cleared to resume riding on Jan. 1, and will be represented by agent Craig O’Bryan.

+ Agent Dudley Osborne hopes to make an impact this meet representing jockeys Orlando Mojica and Julien Couton, the latter a 31-year-old Frenchman who has been riding for 10 years, and in the U.S. since 2007, first for trainer Patrick Biancone and more recently for Leonard Powell, both fellow Frenchman. “It’s a tough circuit and you have to take advantage of all opportunities,” Osborne said. “Julien has the ability. It’s a matter of getting the chance, but we’re getting there.” Mojica also is taking an optimistic approach. “You have to ride the right horses for the right people,” said the personable 31-year-old from Puerto Rico. “I’ve been riding for 14 years and enjoyed success in Kentucky and at Indiana Downs before coming to Southern California. I’m working hard and doing the best I can.”

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