Failure by each favorite in the three Grade I races that concluded
Saturday’s Santa Anita Handicap Day program witnessed by an on-track
crowd of 26,147 sealed a season-high, two-day Pick Six carryover of
$430,581 into Sunday’s nine-race card at Santa Anita.
The huge carryover, which is expected to generate a pool in
excess of $1.5 million on Sunday, became a certainty when Hall of Fame
trainer Bill Mott’s Eastern import Ron the Greek decisively took the
75th Big ’Cap at odds of 7-2 as 2-1 favorite Ultimate Eagle faded to
10th in the field of 13.
But the carryover prospect took legs one race before when
odds-on favorite Mr. Commons, a popular single on Saturday’s Pick Six
cards, was upset by 10-1 shot Willyconker in the 53rd running of
$300,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile on turf.
Saturday’s three-race Grade I blitz began with a milder upset as
5-2 second choice Eden’s Moon ran away from 6-5 favorite Reneesgotzip
by 3 ¼ lengths in the $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes for 3-year-old
fillies at one mile on the main track.
Willyconker, a $40,000 claim by trainer Doug O’Neill last
August, came within a length of beating Mr. Commons in the Grade II
Arcadia Stakes at odds of 10-1 on Feb. 4, but that didn’t seem to
strengthen his cause.
At 10-1 again on Saturday with Joel Rosario taking over in the
saddle, the 5-year-old Irish-bred gelding rallied for a short lead in
midstretch and gamely withstood the closing bid of Mr. Commons by a neck
Mike Smith, who rides the favored 4-year-old, offered little
excuse. “He ran great,” Smith said of Mr. Commons. “I had an
eighth-of-a-mile to get by him (Willyconker) 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
that 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, but 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.”
“The race set up perfect for me,” said Rosario. “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. I was
very happy to turn the tables on Mr. Commons today.”
“What a great ride,” O’Neill exclaimed after the former claimer
recorded his first stakes win in a Grade I. “That’s why you use a guy
like (Santa Anita’s leading rider) 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.”
Winning owners Martin Gardner, David Kenney and Michael Viele
were rewarded with a purse of $180,000. In 19 previous races,
Willyconker had earned $182,960. His overall record became 7-4-1.
Mr. Commons finished one length ahead of Compari in the field of
eight with 3-1 second-choice Jeranimo checking in one-half farther back
in fourth. The winner paid $23.20, $6 and $3.60. The payoffs on Mr.
Commons were $2.80 and $2.20. Compari, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, paid
$3.40 to show.
Eden’s Moon provided jockey Martin Garcia and trainer Bob
Baffert with their fourth victories on the day’s card, three of them in
tandem, with the daughter of Malibu Moon’s authoritative victory in the
Reneesgotzip, who had beaten Eden’s Moon by 2 ¼-lengths in the
first start for each last December at Hollywood Park, was established as
the 6-5 favorite while trying two turns for the first time after two
dazzling sprint victories. In the meantime, Eden’s Moon had broken her
maiden by 11 ½ lengths when sent one mile in her second start.
Eden’s Moon’s seemingly superior distance capabilities appeared
to prove the difference in their second meeting as the winner was
clocked in 1:35.27.
Garcia sent his Florida-bred mount to the lead early while
carving out early fractions of 23.16 and 46.47 after the fast-starting
favorite blew the first turn. Reneesgotzip nevertheless recovered to
gain a pressing position.
With Corey Nakatani aboard, Reneesgotzip pulled alongside the
leader turning for home and even appeared to put her head in front. But
the duel soon dissipated as Eden’s Moon regained command and steadily
Peter Miller, who trains Reneesgotzip, lodged a claim of foul
alleging that his filly had been struck by Garcia’s whip in early
stretch, but the claim was not allowed.
“It was obvious she got hit over the nose with the whip,” asserted
Nakatani took up the argument. “These 3-year-olds,” he said,
“they get hit in the face, and you can see she shakes her head twice
when he hit her. That was the difference between winning and losing. At
that point, it was a two-horse race.”
Winning jockey Garcia saw the incident quite differently. “I
wasn’t worried because I didn’t do anything,” he said. “The No. 7
(Reneesgotzip) 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
Eden’s Moon provided owner Kaleem Shah, of San Diego, with his
first Grade I stakes victory after having purchased the bay filly for
$390,000 last spring. The winning purse of $150,000 brought the earnings
of Eden’s Moon to $192,600.
Eden’s Moon paid $7, $3.60 and $3.40. Reneesgotzip returned $3
and $3. Open Water, a 31-1 shot who finished third, 2 ¾- lengths behind
the runner-up, paid $7 to show with Victor Espinoza in the saddle.
With first post at 12:30 p.m., Sunday’s nine-race program is
headed by the $70,000 Joe Hernandez Handicap at 6 ½ furlongs over the
hillside turf course. A five-time winner over the layout, Mr Gruff is
the 8-5 morning line favorite in a field of nine. He likely will be a
popular single in the Pick Six sequence.
The Pick Six commences with the fourth race. The six races
average eight starters. In addition to Mr Gruff in the Joe Hernandez,
the shortest priced favorites on Jon White’s morning line are Capital
Account at 8-5 in the fifth race and Red Tesla at 9-5 in the fourth.