In the first of the Sunshine Millions Day races exclusively for California-breds, Compari, handled by Hall of Famer Smith, split horses in midstretch to score as the even-money favorite in the $100,000 Sensational Star Stakes at 6 ½ furlongs over Santa Anita’s hillside turf course.
Compari inherited the favorite’s role following the previous day’s scratch of Caracortado due to a foot ailment. Caracortado had been scheduled to make his second start over the layout after staging a breathtaking rally to win the Grade III Daytona Handicap on Jan. 8.
A 6-year-old Redattore gelding trained by Marty Jones, Compari tracked pace-setters Ain’t No Other and My Summer Slew before bursting between the pair to defeat the former by 1 ¼ lengths in 1:12.02. The latter held second, one-half length ahead of third-place Red Defense.
The victory was the eighth in 14 races for the Sensational Star’s defending champion who was bred by owners Harris Farms, Donald Valpredo and John Nicoletti. Compari’s earnings surged to $560,430.
“He ran dynamite,” said Smith. “I asked Marty (Jones), ‘If I just come out of there and put him where he’s comfortable, will that work?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, he’s a class horse. You just put him where he’s in good rhythm.’
“He was just so relaxed laying third. He was pricking his ears, so I knew he was going to fire. Midway through the turn, I could see the horse that was second getting out just a bit, and a lot of times when they hit that dirt, they really spread it. So I banked on it, and it worked.”
“He’s a lot more versatile than he used to be,” Jones said, “and when you get a trip like that, it sure helps. That horse just floated out, and he just got a dream run. He’s a nice horse. He’s all heart. It’s nice to see him back on track with a couple wins.”
Compari paid $4, $3.20 and $2.20 for his second successive victory. He had enjoyed a stretch of six successive wins earlier in his career. Runner-up My Summer Slew, ridden by Alonso Quinonez, returned $7.60 and $3.60. Red Defense, with Rosario up, paid $2.60 to show.
Holladay Road was victorious in the $100,000 Crystal Water Stakes at 1 1/16 miles when rallying to overtake Macho Dorado and triumph by 2 ½ lengths while covering the distance in 1:41.25 with Bejarano aboard.
The 7-year-old gelding, trained by Julio Canani for Gary and Wendy Broad, was rated near the rear as Macho Dorado and Bluegrass Reward dueled for control through much of the early going.
Macho Dorado dispatched Bluegrass Reward nearing the far turn. He gamely held the place under Corey Nakatani after being collared by the winner in midstretch. Spud Spivens, with Smith in the saddle, gained third, 3 ½ lengths behind the runner-up.
“I knew there was going to be plenty of speed in the race,” Bejarano said in the winner’s circle. “I got comfortable with my horse, and I knew I could be patient a little bit. From the half-mile pole, everybody spread out, so I tried to go to the rail and make a little move, and that was it.”
As the second choice, Holladay Road paid $6.60, $3.60 and $2.60. The return on Macho Dorado was $6 and $3.60 while Spud Spivens paid $3.80 to show. Thirtyfirststreet, the 19-10 favorite, was not a factor while finishing fourth. The $60,000 won by Holladay Road, a son of Street Cry, boosted his earnings to $231,820 from six wins in 13 races.
Chokecherymary capped off the stakes events for Cal-breds with a hard-charging finish to take the $100,000 Valentine Dancer for fillies and mares at one mile on turf at odds of 8-1. The 4-year-old daughter of Capsized was clocked in 1:34.42.
Nakatani guided the winner to a half-length score over California Nectar, ridden by Hector Berrios. “It couldn’t have panned out any better,” said Nakatani. “There was plenty of speed in the race, and wherever she was going to be happy and comfortable was where I was going to try to keep her. The last run was the most important one, and she did it today.”
Secret Cove, with Rosario in the irons, finished a neck behind California Nectar and a nose ahead of fourth-place Halo Dolly, the 8-5 favorite.
Trained by Gary Mandella for Steve and Sue Woskow, Chokecherymary paid $18.80, $8 and $4.20 after recording her third victory in eight starts. California Nectar paid $8 and $5. Secret Cove returned $3.80 to show. With the winning purse of $60,000, Chokecherymary’s earnings rose to $172,478.
“I wouldn’t blame anybody for betting against her today because her last mile grass race looks really bad on paper,” said Mandella. He noted that she was never comfortable in the Oct. 27 event at Santa Anita when finishing sixth. “She was tossing her head all over the place going into the first turn, and she does that sometimes,” explained Mandella. “When she’s calm and runs like she did today, she’s got a pretty significant turn of foot.”