TWO POSSIBLE FOR BAFFERT IN CALIFORNIAN
CAL-BRED BRICKYARD RIDE SEEKS KONA GOLD
ESPINOZA WORKING AND IS STILL IN THE GAME
ROYAL SHIP, LEGGS GALORE LEAD WORKOUTS
HIGHLY RESPECTED TRAINER FRENCH PASSES AT 68
COUNTRY GRAMMER, ROADSTER EYE CALIFORNIAN
Bob Baffert could enter two of three horses he has nominated to Saturday’s Grade II Californian Stakes, Country Grammer and Roadster.
Previously trained by Chad Brown, Country Grammer has not raced since last August when a distant fifth in the Grade I Travers at Saratoga. Roadster, winner of the Grade I Runhappy Santa Anita Derby in 2019, led before finishing fourth by less than a length in the Grade II New Orleans Classic at the Fair Grounds March 20.
Country Grammer, a four-year-old son of Tonalist who won the Grade III Peter Pan prior to his Travers outing, worked five furlongs Sunday in 59.20, a tick off the fastest drill at the distance of 59 flat by Baffert trainee Dark Prince. Roadster also worked Sunday, breezing four furlongs in 47.60.
Magic On Tap, a five-year-old gray son of Tapit, also is nominated to the Californian which is for three-year-olds and up at a mile and an eighth. Magic On Tap won an overnight race at Santa Anita on March 28, his first start in six months.
As for Triple Crown hopeful Concert Tour, who incurred his first defeat when third by just over 2 ½ lengths as the 3-10 favorite behind victorious Super Stock and runner-up Caddo River in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, Baffert said he “came out well, but it was very disappointing.
“It’s a learning process; he’s still pretty immature and we’re still analyzing the race, but he came back in good shape.”
BRICKYARD RIDE AT HIS BEST FOR KONA GOLD
Brickyard Yard will seek his second straight graded stakes victory when the four-year-old California-bred son of Clubhouse Ride goes in next Sunday’s Grade III Kona Gold Stakes for three-year-olds and up at 6 ½ furlongs.
The chestnut colt trained by Craig Lewis for owner/breeder Alfred Pais captured the Grade II San Carlos Stakes against open company on March 6, leading throughout the seven-furlong race to score by four lengths under apprentice Alexis Centeno, who retains the mount in the Kona Gold.
“The San Carlos was very exciting and he’s probably at his best right now,” Lewis said. “He’s had two races this year and won both rather impressively,” alluding to a 3 ¼-length victory on the front end in the California Cup Sprint on Jan. 16.
“We’re just hoping he brings his ‘A’ game on race day.”
Brickyard Ride worked four furlongs Sunday in 48.80.
The Kona Gold is named for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner and Eclipse Award champion of 2000 who captured the Grade I race at Churchill Downs by a half-length under Alex Solis in the track record and Breeders’ Cup Sprint record time of 1:07.77 for six furlongs.
Trained by the late Bruce Headley, Kona Gold won 14 races in his 30-race career, earning $2,293,384. A $35,000 yearling purchase, Kona Gold, a bay gelding by Java Gold, raced until he was nine years old.
ESPINOZA SEEKS TO RISE AGAIN
Victor Espinoza does not plan to retire anytime soon.
The affable native of Mexico, his smile as imminent and bright as the sunrise, burst onto the international racing scene with the fairytale horse California Chrome seven years ago, swept the Triple Crown on American Pharoah a year later and became a global celebrity, appearing on “Dancing with the Stars” and “The Tonight Show,” with lucrative commercial offers his for the taking.
A member of the Hall of Fame since 2017, Espinoza’s honors could fill a mansion’s mantle, among them Santa Anita’s George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, three ESPYs as best jockey, three Kentucky Derby wins and the “Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award” presented by the ABC Network.
But it’s not all take. He understands it is better to give than to receive, which is why Espinoza has been donating 10 percent of his sizable income to the City of Hope pediatric research and treatment center in Duarte to aid children stricken with cancer.
All that became relatively meaningless, however, on July 22, 2018 when he suffered a severe neck injury during a workout spill at Del Mar.
The damage was career-threatening, but Espinoza labored through it and was back riding and winning seven months later.
But on May 23 he turns 49 and today appears to be merely a dot on racing’s map. He has ridden in only 22 races at Santa Anita this meet, winning two, the last coming aboard Stella Noir on March 19.
But figures can be deceiving. This is not to say elder statesmen in the jockey colony find mounts hard to come by this meet, since fellow Hall of Fame members Kent Desormeaux, 51, and Mike Smith, 55, ride here too, fulfilling one vital requirement: you must be present.
Victor Espinoza still has a passion for the game and his priorities in order.
“He had to step away for a while,” said his agent of eight years, Brian Beach, explaining Victor’s sparse participation this meet. “He went to Mexico to help his mother, who is in her 80s and required some medical attention, but we didn’t want to publicize it. He kept a low profile and it cost him time.
“While all that was going on, just about every horse he had been riding ran, and since we had kind of a small circle of business to start with, it’s been kind of tough.
“We’re trying to get back to riding, but with two and three days of racing a week and short fields, it’s been difficult.
“But Victor is healthy and ready to go. He’s a workout fiend and been posting his workout videos on Instagram, so we’re looking for the right opportunities to come along.”
Don’t bet against them. Victor Espinoza always looks at the glass as half full, and with career purse earnings approaching $205 million, safe to say racing needs Victor more than Victor needs racing.
Little wonder he once called himself “The luckiest Mexican on earth.”
VETERAN TRAINER NEIL FRENCH PASSES AT AGE 68
A highly respected horseman, trainer Neil French passed away from heart failure Saturday morning at age 68 at Arcadia Methodist Hospital. Beset with rheumatoid arthritis for the past 10 years, French marshalled on with a small stable, assisted by a golf cart which took him from his barn to Santa Anita’s Grandstand apron, where he was able to observe his horses train.
“The horses were his life,” said French’s sister Joy from her home in Spooner, Wisconsin. “The arthritis was very, very hard on him and this time, he had to go to the hospital and his heart gave out. He never got married or had kids, the horses were his life.
“Our family is from Wisconsin and my dad had an uncle who was a licensed blacksmith in Los Angeles, so my parents moved out there in 1950, because my dad (Arden French) wanted to learn that trade. He did and he worked as a farrier at Los Alamitos before he became a Quarter Horse trainer in the late 50s. Neil was skinny as a rail and he used to get on my dad’s horses when he switched over to Thoroughbreds.”
A licensed Thoroughbred trainer since 1971, Neil French, who trained primarily in Southern California, would have turned 69 on July 25.
Among his top horses were Pencil Point, a winner of the 1982 Bing Crosby Handicap at Del Mar and June’s Reward, a California-bred gelding by Hail Bold King. June’s Reward, who was owned by Ken Porter, was an unlucky third in the 1991, Grade II Del Mar Derby under Alex Solis. He would go on to win the 1992 California Cup Classic at Santa Anita under Eddie Delahoussaye and returned $10.80 to win.
“He was a guy with not too many horses, but I loved riding for him,” said Delahoussaye. “I won quite a few races for him, he was a real good horseman and a nice guy. We were pretty close in age and I’m really sad to hear this, he’ll be missed.”
French’s last stakes-caliber horse was Chocolate Coated, a Kentucky-bred filly by Candy Ride who was second in Santa Anita’s Grade II Autumn Miss Stakes on Oct. 29, 2017.
Among some of French’s other notable runners are Wanstead Gardens ($200,325), Princess V ($173,209), Slew City Citadel ($159,024), Basic Rate ($150,975), Young Flyer ($144,025) and Grinding It Out ($138,120).
French won 257 races from 2,080 starters, who earned $6,436,620.
Neil French is survived by his mother, Loretta, three sisters, Joy, Joan and Sundee, as well as many nieces and nephews.
Services are pending at this time and will be made known via the Santa Anita Racing Office in the near future.
FINISH LINES: Royal Ship, prepping for Saturday’s Californian Stakes, worked four furlongs this morning in 47.80 for Richard Mandella, while Leggs Galore, after her sixth straight win in Saturday’s $75,000 Mizdirection Stakes, breezed four furlongs on the training track in a bullet 59.60 for leading trainer Phil D’Amato. In all there were 192 recorded workouts Sunday, 29 on the training track . . . Santa Anita will be dark Monday through Friday. Live racing resumes 1 p.m. Saturday, April 17.
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