From the Santa Anita Media Team:


Gene Hackman gained fame and fortune thanks to the 1971 film classic “The French Connection.”

Phil D’Amato is reaping rewards with “The Irish Connection.”

The San Pedro native who turns 45 on March 11 has three Irish-bred three-year-olds nominated to Saturday’s $100,000 Pasadena Stakes, Cathkin Peak, Coulthard and Earls Rock.

All have one thing in common in addition to being bred in The Emerald Isle: they are unbeaten in the United States.

Cathkin Peak, a bay gelding, won the restricted Eddie Logan Stakes at Santa Anita last Dec. 27; Coulthard, a three-year-old colt, made his U.S. debut a winning one at Santa Anita on Feb. 5; and Earls Rock, also a three-year-old colt, won his debut race going a mile at Santa Anita on Jan. 9 before returning Feb. 5 to capture the restricted Baffle Stakes at 6 ½ furlongs on turf.

Together they are five for five in the U.S., each possessing similar styles, opting for a winning late run after a stalking trip.

“I think the key to their success is having patient owners,” D’Amato said. “The horses are all different when they come here and their acclimation time varies. Some do it quickly, some need an extra month or two.

“I’ve been fortunate to have patient owners with all three who let me run them when they’re ready to run. All three of the horses have different attributes but all are doing well.”

D’Amato credits international bloodstock agent Niall Dalton for connecting him with Earls Rock and Cathkin Peak, while “Coulthard was bought by (former trainer) Jamie Lloyd and (former assistant to Richard Baltas) David Meah.”

Of the three horses nominated, D’Amato entered only Cathkin Peak.

D’Amato, second to Baltas in wins at the recent Del Mar meet (11 to 10), is in the thick of the battle at Santa Anita to date with 13 victories, thanks in no small part to the “luck of the Irish.”

The Pasadena, race eight of nine with a 12:30 p.m. first post time: $2,000 supplemental entry Mac Daddy Too, Abel Cedillo, 10-1; Cathkin Peak, Flavien Prat, 8-5; Red Flag, Ricardo Gonzalez, 3-1; Commander Khai, Juan Hernandez, 5-1; Rock Your World, Umberto Rispoli, 2-1; and Harlan Estate, Ruben Fuentes, 12-1.

(Trainer Bob Baffert / Photo by Gene McLean)


Bob Baffert, as familiar with the Triple Crown trail as copious California coffee cliques are to Starbucks, has no less than four A-List colts listed among Friday’s top 20 Derby Watch in Daily Racing Form.

With Baffert committed to keeping his hopefuls for the most part separated in advance of the first Saturday in May, his number one contender at this point is recent Grade III Sham Stakes winner Life Is Good, who is ticketed to next Saturday’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes on March 6.

A gate to wire winner of the one mile Sham on Jan. 2, Life Is Good has six drills on his work tab since, with his most recent a bullet five furlongs on Feb. 21 of 59.60, best of 54 at the distance.

The “Other Baffert” in the Sham, Medina Spirit, rallied to run a huge second, beaten three quarters of a length, and subsequently went on to a neck victory over Simon Callaghan’s Roman Centurian in the Grade III Robert B. Lewis here on Jan. 30.

While Roman Centurian is being pointed to the San Felipe, Baffert has not yet  announced where Medina Spirit will run next.

Baffert’s Concert Tour, ranked sixth in DRF’s Derby Watch, comes off a solid three quarter length win going seven furlongs in the Grade II San Vicente and is scheduled to run in the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park March 13.

Baffert’s fourth A-Lister, Freedom Fighter, second to Concert Tour in the San Vicente, is on target to run in the Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on March 6.

A well beaten fourth in the Robert B. Lewis, Baffert’s Spielberg didn’t make DRF’s current top 20, but Baffert is hopeful he’ll regain his winning form in Saturday’s Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn.  Spielberg breaks from the outside post in a field of seven going a mile and one sixteenth, while top rated Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Essential Quality drew the rail, but Baffert wasn’t counting on that as an advantage.

“He shipped well but he’s got to break well. I thought this might be a good spot to find out more about him, because he didn’t run last time (fourth by a shade over 11 lengths in the Lewis on Jan. 30),” Baffert said of Spielberg, who will be ridden by Martin Garcia, one of Baffert’s go-to jockeys and primary exercise riders before moving east.

“Martin’s the man over there (at Oaklawn Park),” Baffert said. “He knows what I like.

“Spielberg worked well at Santa Anita (six furlongs Feb. 21 in 1:13) so we’ll see how he does. Hopefully, he’ll be right there.”

As to the next race for Lewis winner Medina Spirit, Baffert said, “He’ll probably work Saturday and then I’ll know.”

One thing Baffert can be sure of: 2015 Triple Crown king American Pharoah will become a member of the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility when results are announced on May 5.

“I’m proud that American Pharoah will get in and it’s good to see Todd Pletcher get in,” Baffert said. “He certainly deserves it and should have been in a long time ago.

“He’s a fellow University of Arizona grad.”


Two Kentucky Derby wins and two decades later, Kent Desormeaux and Tony Matos are together again.

The Hall of Fame jockey, who turns 51 on Saturday, and the veteran agent, still prevalent and positive at 76, are business buddies for the first time since 2000, when they won the Kentucky Derby on Fusaichi Pegasus for trainer Neil Drysdale.

“Kent asked me to work for him and I’m very happy to get together again,” said Matos, who has won the Run for the Roses six times, with Angel Cordero Jr. twice (Cannonade in 1974 and Bold Forbes in 1976); Laffit Pincay Jr. (Swale, 1984); Desormeaux (Real Quiet 1998 and Fusaichi Pegasus); and Victor Espinoza (War Emblem 2002).

Cordero, Pincay, Desormeaux and Espinoza are members of the Hall of Fame, as are two other former Matos clients, the late Garrett Gomez and Gary Stevens.

Matos has represented Edwin Maldonado for a year come May and will continue to do so with Desormeaux now on board.

“Kent has three Kentucky Derby wins (Big Brown in 2008 in addition to Real Quiet and Fusaichi Pegasus), so maybe each one of us can add one more to our resumes,” Matos said. “We did well together in the past. It’s been a good relationship and we remain good friends.

“I’m really looking forward to representing him and Maldonado. Kent is working horses in the morning and focused on getting his business back together.”

FINISH LINES: Juan Hernandez, who ranks second to Flavien Prat’s 39 wins with 34 of his own through 28 racing days, enters Friday’s card with 1,997 career victories, just shy of an enviable milestone at age 28…Mike Smith has been suspended today and tomorrow after Saudi Arabian judges ruled he interfered with Sleepy Eyes Todd aboard Charlatan shortly after the start of the Saudi Cup last Saturday. The California Horse Racing Board stewards complied with the decision, adhering to its reciprocity rule #1484 . . . El Camino Real Derby winner Rombauer worked four furlongs this morning in 48 flat but Michael McCarthy was non-committal on the son of Twirling Candy‘s next race. Also breezing for McCarthy was Independence Hall, who went five furlongs in a bullet 59.60 for the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap on March 6. It was the fastest of 45 works at the distance, the average time of which was 1:01.58. “I was very pleased with both,” the trainer said. There were 105 recorded workouts Friday, 10 on the training track. One of the drills was a four-furlong main track move in 47.80 by champion female sprinter Gamine for Bob Baffert who had a busy morning on Thursday. Of the 66 recorded main track workouts yesterday, nine were for Baffert trainees, including identical four-furlong bullets of 46.80 by comebackers Cezanne and Himiko. The latter, a daughter of American Pharoah, last raced Dec. 26 finishing seventh in the Grade I La Brea Stakes, while Cezanne’s previous start came Aug. 1 at Del Mar when fourth to stablemate Thousand Words in the Shared Belief Stakes. American Pharoah stands this year for $100,000 at Coolmore Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky. . . . Hit the Road, who gave trainer Dan Blacker his first graded stakes win capturing the Grade III Thunder Road on Feb. 6, worked four furlongs Monday in 49.20 in preparation for the Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile on turf March 6 . . . Pubilius Syrus, a six-year-old Candy Ride horse trained by Vladimir Cerin for David and Holly Wilson, could go postward lower than his 4-5 morning line odds in Saturday’s second race as he seeks his fifth straight victory, all at one mile on the main track…Congratulations to Richard and Debbie Baltas, who celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary today!