(Hard Not to Love / Photo Courtesy of Santa Anita)
From the Santa Anita Media Team:
MIKE SMITH, HARD NOT TO LOVE, WINNER: (On tying Jerry Bailey on career Grade I stakes wins with 216): “It’s quite a feat.It is something that is going to go up there as one of my greatest achievements. Just to equal a guy like Jerry Bailey is amazing. He’s someone I’ve looked up to for years. That was actually Jerry’s celebration out of respect.
“My hat’s off to West Point Thoroughbreds, John Shirreffs and the whole barn, so many people. They work so hard with this mare. She has one eye (her right) so she gets a little bit of anxiety at times. We work hard with her and it’s great to see the hard work that we put in pay off today.
(On what he loves about horse racing) “The horse. After the horse it’s the wonderful people you meet. But the horse brings us all together.”
VICTOR ESPINOZA, BELLAFINA, SECOND: “The outside horse was sort of pressing me on the pace a little bit, but nevertheless she was comfortable. When we were heading for home around the eighth pole, she was still running, but then in the blink of an eye, I was like, ‘Wow, what happened?’ She ran a great race for her first race back from the Breeders’ Cup. That’s hard for any horse. She ran a good solid, second today.”
JOHN SHIRREFFS, TRAINER, HARD NOT TO LOVE, WINNER: “Yes, she was really a handful going to the gate. She only has the one eye (her right), and when she gets nervous, she tends to spin around to see. This was a great race to win. For a filly to win a Grade I, that’s like a PhD, so it makes it especially fulfilling.
“Mike (Smith) has really made a difference with her. When he made the decision to ride her, he put his reputation as a horseman on the line. I think that made this even more special.”
TERRY FINLEY, MANAGING PARTNER WEST POINT THOROUGHBREDS, HARD NOT TO LOVE, WINNER: “I’d like to thank the partners because it all starts with them. We were all excited about the race. We felt the big favorite (Bellafina) on paper would be tough to beat but that is why they run the races and I’m just proud of the entire team.
“I love the people from all over who are dedicated to our industry and our horses. If we do that every single day I think or game is going to be better. We are all focused on 2020 and we are going to make this industry better.”
NOTES: The winning owners are Mercedes Stables LLC, West Point Thoroughbreds, Scott Dilworth, Dottie Ingordo, David and Steve Mooney.