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Espinoza Says Setsuko Better This Year

Jockey Victor Espinoza

Take it from someone who knows, Setsuko is a different horse for this year’s Santa Anita Handicap presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino than he was for last year’s when he finished second by a nose to Game On Dude at 25-1 under Victor Espinoza.


The 39-year-old jockey has ridden Setsuko in more than half of his 17 starts--nine to be exact--, winning just once, last out at Santa Anita on Feb. 4. It was the first start for Setsuko since last August, and only his second win. During that absence, Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella had the 5-year-old son of Pleasantly Perfect gelded.


“I think he’s better now than he was last year, judging from how he’s come back since his layoff and from being gelded,” said Espinoza, who was aboard Setsuko in last year’s heart-breaking loss. “The win on Feb. 4 was an easy one for him, but what I liked even more was the fact that he moved between horses from the inside after breaking from the rail.


“Before, he was a little afraid and intimidated when he was in between horses. His last race, I was inside all the way and he acted like it was no big deal. I really liked the way he came back, and I talked with Richard after the horse’s last work, and he said he worked really, really good.”


After breaking his maiden in December of 2009, Setsuko ran in 12 races, nine of them graded, stakes, before winning on Feb. 4. The 5-year-old son of Pleasantly Perfect has a 2-6-3 record from 17 starts with earnings of $506,486.


“I always liked the horse from Day One,” Espinoza said. “We always thought he was a really, really nice horse, but he was always running against tough horses. Even so, he always tried and always ran good. Now that he’s older and more mature I think he’ll win more.”


Meanwhile, defending Santa Anita Handicap winner Game On Dude and this year’s favorite worked six furlongs in company Thursday in a bullet 1:10.80 with Martin Garcia aboard. Workmate Gatheratthealter was clocked in 1:12 flat.


“He couldn’t have gone any better,” Baffert said of Game On Dude. “He’s as ready as I can get him.”


Added private clocker Tony Turrell: “He looked like a machine.”


Probable for the Big ‘Cap: Boxeur des Rues, Mario Gutierrez; Game On Dude, Chantal Sutherland; Gladding, Joel Rosario; Holladay Road, no rider; Ron the Greek, Jose Lezcano; Setsuko, Victor Espinoza; Twice the Appeal, Christian Santiago Reyes; Uh Oh Bango, Mike Smith; and Ultimate Eagle, Martin Pedroza.



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