(Medina Spirit winning the Robert B. Lewis Stakes / Photo Courtesy of Santa Anita)

From the Santa Anita Media Team:

MEDINA’ SHOWS SPIRIT, HEART IN LEWIS VICTORY

Move over, Authentic.

In a performance even more surreal than Authentic’s Kentucky Derby triumph, Medina Spirit upstaged Bob Baffert’s newly minted Horse of the Year Saturday, staring defeat in the eye down the homestretch and refusing to blink, holding off two pursuers through the last quarter mile to win the Robert B. Lewis Stakes in a stretch run for the ages.

It wasn’t Jaipur and Bill Shoemaker and Ridan and Manuel Ycaza going neck and neck for a mile and a quarter in the 1962 Travers, Jaipur on the outside eventually winning by a nose, but the three-horse battle down the lane in the Lewis will do until the next thing comes along.

(Aside to readers: Although it’s in black and white and not in high definition, it’s worth going on google to watch the ’62 Travers and hear announcer Fred Capossela’s distinctive, halting, staccato, call. Comedian Robert Klein does a classic impression of ‘Cappy’ who when asked by his wife what he wants for dinner, responds with, ‘I’ll have Caesar salad first, roast beef second, mashed potatoes third, peas and carrots fourth . . . ).”

Even Baffert thought he wasn’t going to win after Roman Centurian and Hot Rod Charlie hooked pacesetting Medina Spirit at the head of the stretch. As it was, Medina Spirit, who led virtually from the start after breaking from the rail, prevailed by a short neck over Roman Centurian, with Hot Rod Charlie a nose back in third.

“I thought he was beat,” Baffert said after the race.

All was well, today, however, with Baffert’s record 10th Lewis triumph safely in the archives.

“He was gutty as could be, showed some grit, and that’s what you want to see,” Baffert said Sunday morning. “He’s got game. He beat a good field and the California horses (on the Triple Crown trail) are pretty strong.”
Baffert now has the enviable but challenging assignment of deciding on Medina Spirit’s next race, as he must with individual Kentucky Derby Future Book Wagering favorite Life Is Good, among others in his barn of well-stocked sophomore bluebloods.

“We’ll just go week by week,” Baffert said. “I don’t really plan anything out. I’ll wait a couple weeks before I decide. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even going to run in the Lewis until the last minute. I decided I liked the way he (Medina Spirit) worked, put him in there, didn’t want to be sittin’ on him, breezing him. Sometimes they get hurt just working them, so I’d just rather put a race into him.

“We’re learning about the horse. It wasn’t an ideal way for him to run that way yesterday (on the lead from the rail), but his hand was sort of set from the start when he broke a little slow and he (Abel Cedillo) couldn’t really take him back. He never had a chance to really get him out like he did the last time (second to Life Is Good in the Sham).

“There was a lot of speed yesterday, and from a different post he could have relaxed more. But it was good for him, he got something out of it and showed there’s a lot of quality.

“It puts him right up with what’s out there now. We still haven’t seen any American Pharoahs or Justifys yet, but Medina Spirit’s win makes Life Is Good look better, too.

“This next couple months you’ll see a lot of horses change.”

As to Spielberg, who finished a disappointing fourth, beaten just over 11 lengths, Baffert said, “He was never really in it. He didn’t like dirt in his face. He didn’t show up, but they’ll do that.”

O’NEILL PROUD OF HOT ROD CHARLIE’S LEWIS

Santa Anita training leader Doug O’Neill was more than pleased with Hot Rod Charlie’s three-year-old debut in Saturday’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes, in which he ran a game third to Medina Spirit, beaten a neck and a nose for all the money.

“Hot Rod Charlie came out of the race in great shape,” O’Neill said. “We’re so proud of him. He got a 91 Beyer in his return and ran a real game race against other really top three-year-olds.

“I haven’t really decided where we’ll go next, but we’re excited to get him back and kind of bridge the gap from where he left off in the Breeders’ Cup (Juvenile, when second at 94-1 to Eclipse Award champion two-year-old male of 2020 Essential Quality).”

Meanwhile, 14-length maiden winner The Great One is set for the Grade II San Felipe Stakes on March 6. “He’s doing super,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill also has Brilliant Cut ticketed for this Saturday’s Grade III Las Virgenes Stakes for three-year-old fillies at one mile. The daughter of Speightstown will be making her first start beyond seven furlongs.

“She’s doing well and acts like two turns won’t be a problem, but you never know until you try,” O’Neill said.

“She’s in good form right now.”

THE CHOSEN VRON TRAINING WELL FOR SAN VICENTE

The Chosen Vron, smashing 6 ¾-length debut winner last Dec. 27 for trainer and part owner Eric Kruljac, likely will make his next start in Saturday’s Grade II, $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for three-year-olds at seven furlongs, Kruljac said this morning.

“We’re looking at the race pretty seriously,” Kruljac said. “We missed time training, but he’s as fit or fitter than when he broke his maiden. He had a little cold and we didn’t work him for a couple weeks, but we have gotten one good work into him (four furlongs in 48.80 on Thursday) and he really seems sharp.

“We’ve got a few more days to put some good gallops in him and I would have to believe he’s as fit or fitter than when he broke his maiden.”

The Chosen Vron, a gelded son of Vronsky bred in California by Tiz Molly Partners, was the 2-1 favorite under John Velazquez in his maiden triumph. He showed speed from the start and powered away impressively.

 

RUNNING (AND WINNING) PAYS OFF FOR KNAPP BARN

Taking a page from the late Barry Abrams’ book of training, Steve Knapp saddled two winners Saturday, both horses returning to the races after uncharacteristically brief intervals.

Lady On Ice won the second race at 5 ½ furlongs under Joel Rosario for $20,000 claimers after finishing sixth in a one-mile event for the same claiming price just a week ago, on Jan. 24.

Loud Mouth, winner of the Cary Grant Stakes for California-breds last Nov. 22, won the sixth race, an optional claimer at six furlongs with Abel Cedillo aboard.

A five-year-old full horse bred by Tommy Town Thoroughbreds LLC and owned by Knapp’s principal client, Ron Thomsen, Loud Mouth had made his last start just two weeks ago, finishing fourth on Jan. 16 in the California Cup Sprint.

Each horse was coming off eventful starts last out.

“She stumbled pretty badly at the start last out,” Knapp said of Lady On Ice, “but she bounced out of the race fine and with a short field we decided to go in the 5 ½, which she prefers more than a mile.

“We came back quick with Loud Mouth because the spacing fits well for our next planned start in the (Grade II) San Carlos (Stakes on March 6). My rider (Abel Cedillo) told me how sharp the horse was coming out of the race, and I always choose to run instead of working my horses.”

Knapp, a native of Los Angeles, credits his owners and staff for his recent resurgence, which has resulted in six wins from 25 starts, a winning percentage of 24 this meet.

“My exercise rider, Fernando Serna, who works all my horses, has been with me for years,” Knapp said. “He used to ride at Hastings Park. He’s one of the key guys at my barn who lets me know where my horses fit.

“If there’s something wrong, he knows, and when they’re right, he knows because he sits on them. I depend on him tremendously.”

Knapp currently has 24 head, with Thomsen Racing as his “main owner right now. When Ron joined my barn, that’s when I started to get going again. He’s always got seven to 10 horses with me, and that helps.”

 

FINISH LINES: According to Morning Line Maker Jon White, C R K Stable’s Express Trainearned a 100 Beyer Speed figure in winning Saturday’s Grade II San Pasqual Stakes, while Medina Spirit checked in with a 91 Beyer in winning the Grade II Robert B. Lewis…Romping debut winner Moraz, nominated to Saturday’s Las Virgenes Stakes, worked five furlongs this morning in 1:00.80 for trainer Michael McCarthy, who also sent promising three-year-old Rombauer the same distance in 1:00.60. Rombauer was scratched from Saturday’s Robert Lewis Stakes. In all there were 161 recorded workouts Sunday, eight on the training track . . .Sorry to report two recent passing’s.  Longtime owner and legendary USC placekicker “Sad Sam” Tsagalakis passed on Jan. 2 at age 87 following a long bout with cancer and retired trainer Steve Whitby passed away Saturday evening at age 92 following a bout with COVID-19 according to former trainer Mark Tsagalakis. Sam Tsagalakis played in two Rose Bowls, 1953 & ’55, for the Trojans and is perhaps best remembered for a game winning 38 yard field goal versus Stanford in 1953 Santa Anita will be dark Monday through Thursday. Live racing resumes 12:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5.