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Santa Anita Recap: October 18 - 21

by Jeff Siegel

October 23, 2018


It was somewhat disappointing that the restricted Sunny Slope Stakes for 2-year-olds could muster only four starters, one of which (Shark) finished 39 lengths behind the third-place finisher. Essentially this was a $70,000 first-level allowance race, and it was won by the first-time gelding Sparky Ville, who capitalized on a perfect stalking trip to wear down the recent maiden-claiming winner Savagery, with even-money favorite and pace-setting Seven Scents weakening under pressure to wind up third. The assigned Beyer speed figure was a respectable 83, a career top for the winner by 13 points, and based on pedigree Sparky Ville should eventually be just as good routing as sprinting. But the son of Candy Ride still has considerable ground to make up to be ranked among the best juveniles in the West. Two races back he finished second, beaten more than 10 lengths, to Instagrand in the Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar in August and then he was non-competitive when last of six (beaten 16 lengths) behind Game Winner in the American Pharoah Stakes last month.

Sparky Ville wasn’t the only first-time gelding to produce a significant forward move on the Sunday program. Erotic, off the track since December 26, 2017, returned for trainer Richard Mandella (excellent stats with layoff runners) in a maiden special weight Hillside affair in the nightcap. Despite a healthy series of improved workouts and the presence of leading rider Flavien Prat, he was largely ignored on the tote at 11-1, but the son of More Than Ready left his previous form behind with a sharp off-the-pace tally that earned a 75 Beyer figure, 14 points better than his previous career top. The route-to-sprint angle always is highly-effective in these slalom events and both Erotic and second place finisher Big Buzz (10-1) not only were shortening in trip but both were sprinting for the first time in their racing careers. The $106.50 exacta for a dollar certainly was haveable based on that excellent long shot angle alone.


Over what proved to be a very pro-speed main track, Kershaw had much going for him – karma, too, if you believe in that - when trying a two-turn mile for the first time in today’s third race, a five-runner starter’s allowance event that was clearly lacking in early speed. The Phil D’Amato-trained gelding was stretching out for the first time and those who backed him down to co-favoritism certainly identified the powerful angle that states that if a horse really doesn’t want to run long, he will anyway in his first attempt. Whether pristine conditions made Kershaw’s six-length romp made him look better than he really is will be determined in due time; however, we’d strongly advise to treat the Phil D’Amato-trained gelding with extreme skepticism if he shows up in a race with other speed types next time out. On the other hand, if the Dodgers win the World Series, send it in.

In her first start on grass (and just the third of her career), Mercy Mercy deserved better than finishing fourth in the seventh race, a maiden special weight turf miler for juvenile fillies. The Bob Hess-trained daughter of Mucho Macho Man settled nicely off the pace in a change of tactics, attempted to produce a rally in the upper stretch but ran into a roadblock and lost valuable momentum, only to pick it up again close home before galloping out strongly. Beaten 2 ½ lengths for the money, she clearly improved significantly off her previous two outings and though she doesn’t really have a turf pedigree grass apparently is her preferred surface. She’ll also enjoy more distance when given the chance.

There was plenty of buzz surrounding the debut of Temple Secret in the finale, a downhill turf sprint for juvenile fillies. Though she had clear sailing from the top of the lane to the wire and could only manage a fifth-place finish (beaten three lengths by Vantastic), the daughter of Temple City stayed on nicely and surely will move forward with experience and distance. The Neil Drysdale-trained filly is worth backing next time when stretching out to a mile on grass, most likely during the fall Del Mar season.


Starting Bloc really has gotten good lately, so good in fact that it would not be surprising to see the son of More Than Ready find his way into stakes competition before the end of the year. Claimed out of a maiden $50,000 affair by low profile trainer Alfred Marquez from Richard Mandella in May, the 4-year-old colt has matured into a highly-useful turf performer, winning three of his last four starts including a last-to-first performance in today’s sixth race vs. first-level allowance horses over 10 furlongs. The colt’s Beyer numbers are on a steady rise – 68-79-84-85-86 in his last five starts – and further improvement is likely. His best weapon is his exceptional turn of foot at any distance, so Marquez has several options as he maps out a plan for the remainder of the year.

The finale, a downhill turf maiden raffle for two-year-old fillies, saw the first five finishing slots filled by first-time starters, including the San Luis Rey Downs shipper Velvet Queen, who grabbed control early and never looked back. Trainer Richard Baltas probably could have chosen any jockey for the daughter of Animal Kingdom but opted for Agapito Delgadillo, an out-of-fashion but capable veteran jockey who rarely attracts money. If the goal was to cash a bet at a nice price, Delgadillo is the guy you want. The race should prove productive, because in addition to the winner there were other newcomers in the field that are likely to develop into useful sorts. Runner-up Out of Balance, a debuting Kitten’s Joy filly from Zenyatta’s Grade-1 winner half-sister Balance (who, like Zenyatta, has yet to produce even one winner from five prior foals), hadn’t shown much of anything in the morning for trainer David Hofmans but produced a good late kick to wind up second in a race that surely will lead to better things for her down the road.


Kookie Gal, extremely well-meant in her debut when facing maiden juvenile state-bred fillies over a mile on grass in today’s eighth race, managed to win the race by a diminishing head but almost cost herself the victory by pulling very hard behind the leaders, who simply were going too slow for her liking during the first half mile. Recognizing that his mount was uncomfortable being covered up along the rail, jockey Flavien Prat sensed that the daughter of Boisterous would be happier if free and clear, even though a maneuver to the outside (an opportunity that materialized approaching the far turn) would produce a loss of ground. That split-second decision by Prat proved to be a winning one, as Kookie Gal switched off, got into proper rhythm, struck the front midway on the turn and then dug down deep under pressure to withstand fellow first-timer Doc Yco Cheeks. Bred for grass on both sides of her pedigree, the Peter Miller-trained filly has plenty of raw ability and could develop into a highly-useful sort in state-bred company this year and next. Cheekaboo’s full sister Doc Yco Cheeks, rallied into the teeth of slow splits to just miss in a very promising effort for trainer Peter Eurton. In a race that should prove to be highly-productive, the first two finishers are “must follow” types, for sure.