Race of the Week 2017

Bejarano Wins Five on Cal Cup Day

Jockey Rafael Bejarano signs autographs the day before the Preakness
Norvsky, who never runs a bad race, turned in his best on Saturday when bursting from fourth to first in the closing yards of Santa Anita’s $175,000 California Cup Classic presented by City National Bank to give Rafael Bejarano his fourth of five riding victories on the nine-race afternoon devoted strictly to California-bred horses.

A 5-year-old gelding who had been out of the money but once in 15 previous starts, Norvsky delivered as the 3-2 favorite with his late spurt that edged runner-up Lucky Primo by a neck. Raced for the first time on turf, the mile-and-one-eighth event was timed in 1:46.97.

Not only did Norvsky swoop past Lucky Primo, but third-place Holladay Road and Mega Heat as well in the final 70 yards to achieve his most lucrative career victory for the partnership of Bud and Judy Johnston and Robert Riggio. Lucky Primo nosed out Holladay Road for the place with Mega Heat finishing another half-length back in the field of eight.

“I was a little worried in the stretch because I had to move early at the three-eighths pole to get him close,” said Bejarano, “then I needed to make another move at the top of the stretch. My horse had enough to keep going, and he showed me a big kick.”

Trained by Don Warren, the offspring of Vronsky bred at the Johnstons’ Old English Rancho provided a measure of solace after stellar stablemate Acclamation had been forced out of next weekend’s Breeders’ Cup Turf with a leg ailment following five straight graded stakes wins.

“It was great to have the ‘B’ team win for us,” said Warren. “The horse is a deep closer, but I just told Rafael not to drop 15 lengths out of it like he sometimes does. Every little bit helps in a race like this.”

In other Cal Cup features on Saturday, Courtside sped to a wire-to-wire victory in the $100,000 Donald Valpredo Sprint while defeating Bob Black Jack by 2 ¼ lengths and Hillside Turf Course specialist Unzip Me took the $125,000 John Deere Distaff as the 4/5 favorite with Bejarano achieving Win No. 5. The final time for the six-furlong Sprint was a blazing 1:07.97.

Bejarano, whose mount in the Sprint, Cost of Freedom, was scratched during the post parade, has turned out to be an almost perfect fit for Norvsky. He rode the bay gelding to his first stakes win in last July’s California Dreamin Handicap at Del Mar before missing by a nose in the Harry F. Brubaker Stakes one month later. The Cal Cup Classic was his third time aboard Norvsky.

In gaining his fifth victory in 16 races to accompany seven seconds and three thirds, Norvsky paid $5, $3.20 and $2.40. Lucky Primo, ridden by Victor Espinoza, returned $7.60 and $5.60. The show price on Holladay Road, with Garrett Gomez aboard, was $4.40. The winning purse of $105,000 elevated the career earnings of Norvsky to $397,844. His only off-the-board showing was a fourth, 1 ¼ lengths behind victorious Liberian Freighter, in last April’s Grade II Arcadia Stakes at Santa Anita.

Courtside, a 3-year-old gelding trained by John Sadler for breeders Lee and Susan Searing’s C R K Stable, netted his first stakes win in the Sprint. Joel Rosario sent him to the front immediately. Courtside was never seriously threatened while speeding through fractions of 21.36, 43.38 and 55.36.

“He likes to run on the lead like that, and at six furlongs, that is the way to do it,” said Rosario. “I just let him get away and hoped that he would hold on. To me, it looks like he can hold on at six furlongs. He ran very good today.”

Bob Black Jack, who raced in a good stalking position while handled by Patrick Valenzuela, finished second, one-half length ahead of M One Rifle and jockey Chantal Sutherland. Mensa Heat, the 3-2 choice in a field of seven, was of no consequence while running last.

Courtside, sired by Cindago, was participating in his first stakes race, but solid recent form in allowance races attracted enough support to put his odds at 9-2. He paid $11.40, $6.40 and $4.20. Bob Black Jack paid $6 and $4.20. M One Rifle paid $3.20 to show.

Courtside’s first stakes victory was worth $60,000 which brought the gray gelding’s career total to $178,300 from a 5-2-0 record in 10 starts.

Bejarano climaxed his brilliant day with a stirring ride atop Unzip Me, the 5-year-old mare who had captured 5 of 8 previous starts at 6 ½ furlongs over Santa Anita’s Hillside Turf Course and who had finished third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs.

The 29-year-old jockey, riding Unzip Me for the ninth time, positioned her just behind the leading group coming down the hill, moved outside for the stretch run and streaked home to defeat West Ruler by 1 ¼ lengths in 1:12.53. Salty Sarah finished third, another neck back in the field of 11 fillies and mares.

Trained by Marty Jones for breeders Harris Farms and Donald Valpredo as well as co-owner Per Antonsen, Unzip Me paid $4.40, $3 and $2.80. The mutuels on West Ruler were $6.20 and $4.60. Salty Sarah paid $7.60 to show.

“She really ran her race today,” Jones said afterward. “She’s just an amazing horse. Rafael rode her great today. He got her into a nice comfortable position in a big field with some speed.” Commented Bejarano, “I followed the speed and made one big run. She has improved a lot, and she’s getting better. I think she will only keep getting better and better.”

The victory in the Distaff, worth $75,000, raised the career earnings of Unzip Me to $893,228. The daughter of City Zip’s record became 13-4-3 in 23 career starts.

The series of five stakes race exclusively for California-breds began with odds-on favorite Starlight Magic scoring by 1 ¾ lengths over Willa B Awesome in the $100,000 Robert H. Walter Juvenile Fillies while covering 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.47 under Bejarano.

A gray daughter of Marino Marini, Starlight Magic raced in fourth through the early going, unleashed her bid nearing the far turn, overtook Willa B Awesome in midstretch and scored impressively in her first route try.

Willa B Awesome, ridden by Martin Pedroza, wound up a clear runner-up while crossing the wire 10 ½ lengths ahead of Raesunbridledfaith with Martin Garcia aboard in the field of six. The winner paid $3.20.

Trained by Mark Glatt for Cory Wagner, Starlight Magic gained her second victory in four starts. The winning purse of $60,000 hiked her earnings to $96,780. Starlight Magic, bred by John and Diane Fradkin, was purchased by Wagner for $75,000 at this year’s Barretts May Sale.

“She’s a free-running filly with a long stride and a good kick,” Bejarano said in the winner’s circle. “She’s improving with every race, and she’ll go further.”

Bejarano notched his second successive victory in the $100,000 Bob Benoit Juvenile when Rousing Sermon ran down pace-setter Motown Men at the sixteenth pole to triumph by 2 ¼ lengths in 1:43.52 for the 1 1/16 miles.

Owned and bred by Mr. and Mrs. Larry D. Williams, Rousing Sermon won convincingly in his first race around two turns after a pair of thirds in sprint stakes that followed his maiden victory. “You couldn’t ask him to run any better,” noted winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

Motown Men, who dictated a pedestrian pace with Gomez in the saddle, held on for second, one-half length ahead of Stoney Fleece in the field of nine 2-year-olds. As the co-second choice, Rousing Sermon paid $9.20 to win. The win by the son of Lucky Pulpit increased his earnings to $144,000.

Bejarano said he had been working Rousing Sermon at Hollywood in preparation for the Juvenile. “He’s been getting better and better every work,” Bejarano said, “and the last work he did really good. When I saw (Motown Men) was hanging a little bit in the stretch, I got my opportunity to get clear, and my horse showed me a big kick.”

Bejarano picked up his third victory of the afternoon with longshot Mandated Bliss in an allowance event at 6 ½ furlongs. Trained by Kathy Walsh for Al and Sandee Kirkwood, Mandated Bliss paid $25.



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competent rider has not become the big fish in what has become a small pond.

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