(Trainer John Shirreffs / Photo Courtesy of Santa Anita)

From the Santa Anita Media Team;

John Shirreffs is aiming for victory at Santa Anita on Saturday.

The former Marine is focused in a bid to capture the day’s two marquee events, the Grade I Runhappy Santa Anita Derby and the Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup. In all, seven stakes offering more than $1.3 million in purse money will be presented.

Honor A.P. will attempt to hand undefeated favorite Authentic his first loss in the Derby, a San Felipe rematch to be decided at a mile and an eighth, while Midcourt will bid to make amends for his third-place finish as the odds-on favorite in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap March 7, when he faces five foes in the mile and a quarter Gold Cup.

The Runhappy Santa Anita Derby and the Hollywood Gold Cup are duly complemented Saturday by the Grade II Santa Anita Oaks; the $150,000 Cinema Stakes; the $100,000 Crystal Water Stakes; the $100,000 Fran’s Valentine Stakes; and the $75,000 Desert Code Stakes.

First post time for the 11-race program is 12:30 p.m.

Authentic appears to be the speed of the speed and drew the outside post position in a field of eight, with Honor A.P. just inside him at seven.

Honor A.P. finished second to Authentic in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes at a mile and one-sixteenth on March 7, the last start for each. Honor A.P. was inside him in that race, too, breaking from post two while Authentic left from post four and led throughout.

Shirreffs was not alarmed about being inside Authentic, opting to leave matters in the capable hands of Mike Smith, who has ridden the ridgling in each of his three races.

As to the Gold Cup, “Midcourt will probably be attending the pace,” Shirreffs said of the five-year-old gelded son of 2007 champion sprinter Midnight Lute owned by C R K Stable, LLC.

Shirreffs has trained Midcourt for the last eight of his 10-race career, winning five, including the Grade III Native Diver and the Grade II San Pasqual Stakes.

He was wide in the Santa Anita Handicap but finished willingly after prompting the pace into deep stretch, beaten less than a length.

On Saturday, Shirreffs will have the unique experience of giving a leg up to racing’s only two active Triple Crown-winning jockeys, Mike Smith and Victor Espinoza.

Smith, 54, who rides Honor A.P., won the 2018 Triple Crown on Justify, while Espinoza, 48, who pilots Midcourt, swept the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes on American Pharoah in 2015.

“They’re two Hall of Fame riders and multiple (Kentucky) Derby winners,” Shirreffs said. “They have a resume for the ages.”

The Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, race eight: Friar’s Road, Geovanni Franco, 20-1; Rushie, Flavien Prat, 8-1; Shooters Shoot, Abel Cedillo, 8-1; Anneau d’Or, Victor Espinoza, 15-1; Azul Coast, Umberto Rispoli, 15-1; Honor A.P., Mike Smith, 9-5; and Authentic, Drayden Van Dyke, 4-5.

The Hollywood Gold Cup, which goes as race 10: Parsimony, Mario Gutierrez, 15-1; Midcourt, Victor Espinoza, 2-1; Higher Power, Flavien Prat, 8-5; Brown Storm, Abel Cedillo, 12-1; Improbable, Drayden Van Dyke, 2-1; and Tenfold, Mike Smith, 6-1.


Ken McPeek was scheduled to fly in from Louisville to California today where he will saddle Swiss Skydiver in Saturday’s Grade II, $200,000 Santa Anita Oaks.

Swiss Skydiver, a chestnut daughter of Daredevil bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, LLC and owned by Peter Callahan, is one of three fillies McPeek had nominated to the Oaks but the only one he entered.

“She’s a really good filly,” McPeek said by phone before departing from Kentucky. “I think they overlooked her a bit in her last couple, but since we’ve been able to stretch her out to two turns, she’s done exceptionally better.

The “last two” McPeek referred to were the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks which she won by 3 ¼ lengths at odds of 9-1 on March 28 and the Grade III Fantasy at Oaklawn Park May 1 when she upset favored Venetian Harbor by 2 ½ lengths at 16-1.

Swiss Skydiver has a 3-1-1 record from six starts with earnings of $437,980. She received a career-best 99 Beyer for her Fantasy victory.

“She’s good right now,” added McPeek, 57, who has engaged Mike Smith to ride. “I tried to make a case not to bring her but we figured we’d come while she was doing great.”

Born in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas and raised in Lexington, Ky., international horseman McPeek will be making a rare visit to California. He is based primarily in Kentucky, Florida and New York.

McPeek won the 2010 La Canada Stakes with Striking Dancer and the Grade I American Oaks in 2017 with Daddy’s Lil Darling, both at Santa Anita. They were ridden by Hall of Fame members Alex Solis and Smith.

The Santa Anita Oaks, race five of 11: Swiss Skydiver, Mike Smith, 6-5; Merneith, Drayden Van Dyke, 2-1; Speech, Flavien Prat, 8-5; and Regal Beauty, Abel Cedillo, 10-1. Smiling Shirlee was scratched.


Despite returning from short turnarounds of three weeks, trainer Craig Lewis hopes to enhance the breeding resume of Clubhouse Ride when Club Aspen and Warren’s Showtime run in Saturday’s Cinema Stakes and the Fran’s Valentine Stakes, respectively.

Each horse last raced on May 16.

Both Warren’s Showtime and Club Aspen are progeny of Clubhouse Ride, a prolific “overnight sensation” as a stallion. The multiple Grade II winner, a son of Candy Ride who was conditioned by Lewis, stands at Legacy Ranch in Clements, California, for $3,500 live foal.

“They’re both doing well or they wouldn’t be in to run,” Lewis said. “Clubhouse Ride looks like he’s on his way to being a very good stallion. We’ve got four Clubhouse Rides at Santa Anita that have all been very impressive, including the two running tomorrow.

“Margo’s Boy has won three in a row and Brickyard Ride ran the fastest half mile at Santa Anita in the last five years (a clocking of 43.80 when he set fractions of 21.27, 43.80 and 56.07, with a six furlong final time of 1:09.26 on May 24, winning by nearly 10 lengths).

“Margo’s Boy will run next in the Snow Chief (a $150,000 race for three-year-olds at a mile and an eighth on turf June 20).”

Club Aspen, owned by Craig’s older brother, Larry, won the restricted King Glorious Stakes four races back and was third in the Echo Eddie on May 16 despite bobbling at the start.

Warren’s Showtime, a three-year-old filly owned by Benjamin and Sally Warren and bred by Benjamin, returns to her fancied distance of one mile on turf in the Fran’s Valentine. All four of her victories have come at a mile on grass.

Jockey Jorge Velez will continue his monopoly on Club Aspen and Warren’s Showtime. The 22-year-old native of Puerto Rico, a two-time winner of the Los Alamitos riding title, has ridden the former in all 10 of his races, winning twice, and Warren’s Showtime in all eight of her starts, winning four.

“He’s a good rider,” Lewis said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”

The Cinema, which goes as race nine: Heywood Beach, Flavien Prat, 6-1; Club Aspen, Jorge Velez, 6-1; K P All Systems Go, Abel Cedillo, 9-5; Constitutionaffair, Ruben Fuentes, 30-1; Dominant Soul, Tiago Pereira, 20-1; Liar Liar, Mario Gutierrez, 4-1; and Hariboux, Umberto Rispoli, 8-5.

The Fran’s Valentine, race one: Sedamar, Brice Blanc, 5-1; Super Patriot, Flavien Prat, 2-1; Pulpit Rider, Drayden Van Dyke, 8-1; Hollywood Hills, Victor Espinoza, 8-1; Warren’s Showtime, Jorge Velez, 5-2; and Cordiality, Umberto Rispoli, 5-2.


Oliver, a four-year-old Papa Clem colt trained by Doug O’Neill for William Peoples, will make only his second start on grass Saturday in the Crystal Water Stakes. It will be Oliver’s 21st career race.

It is one in the Golden State Series for California-bred or sired runners, this for three-year-olds and up at a mile.

“He’s only run on grass once but he’s a very honest horse,” O’Neill said, alluding to the 2019 Snow Chief Stakes at 1 1/8 miles in which Oliver set the pace before finishing sixth, beaten only 3 ¼ lengths.

Oliver was a well-beaten sixth of 11 when five wide last out in an overnight sprint on the main track at Oaklawn Park April 24.

“He started from way outside (post position 10) and was wide all the way around,” O’Neill recalled. “He didn’t have a real lucky trip, so we’re hoping if we get him back to his previous Santa Anita form and he can carry it to the turf, he’s got a big chance.

“I’m excited to have Mike Smith on him.”

O’Neill also has Rookie Mistake entered in the $75,000 Desert Code Stakes for three-year-olds at 5 ½ furlongs on turf. The steady son of Square Eddie owned and bred by principal client J. Paul Reddam was second by a head at 13-1 last out in the Echo Eddie on May 16, his first start in more than two months.

The Desert Code is named for the horse that posted a come-from behind 36-1 shocker for trainer David Hofmans and jockey Richard Migliore in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita.

The Crystal Water, which goes as race seven: Cono, Mario Gutierrez, 10-1; Grinning Tiger, Heriberto Figueroa, 20-1; Prince Earl, Umberto Rispoli, 2-1; Brandothebartender, Victor Espinoza, 8-1; Oliver, Mike Smith, 10-1; King Abner, Abel Cedillo, 5-1; Ward ‘n Jerry, Flavien Prat, 3-1; and Lieutenant Dan, Drayden Van Dyke, 4-1.

The Desert Code, race four: Phantom Boss, Tiago Pereira, 6-1; She’s So Special, Flavien Prat, 2-1; El Tigre Terrible, Ruben Fuentes, 5-2; Rookie Mistake, Mario Gutierrez, 5-2; Party Town, Edwin Maldonado, 12-1; and Thanks Mr. Eidson, Mike Smith, 9-2.


A three-time winner of the prestigious Hollywood Gold Cup, legendary California-bred Lava Man, who currently resides at trainer Doug O’Neill’s Barn 88, will lead the parade to the post for the race’s 81st running this Saturday at Santa Anita.

Run at Hollywood Park from 1938 through 2013, the iconic mile and one quarter fixture for 3-year-olds and up was shifted to Santa Anita in 2014 and renamed the Gold Cup at Santa Anita.  Recently restored to its original title, the Grade I, $300,000 Hollywood Gold Cup will be run as the 10th race on an 11-race program on Saturday, with approximate post time listed at 5:12 p.m. PT.

Lava Man, a dark bay gelding who was foaled on March 20, 2001, is by Slew City Slew and is out of the Nostalgia’s Star mare Li’L Ms. Leonard.

A winner of three consecutive Gold Cups from 2005-07, Lava Man became the first three-time winner of Hollywood Park’s signature race for the handicap division since Hall of Famer Native Diver did it for trainer Buster Millerick in 1965-67.

The undisputed greatest claim in Thoroughbred history, Lava Man was haltered out of his 13th start for $50,000 on Aug. 13, 2004 at Del Mar.  From there, Lava Man would amass more than $5.1 million in earnings for owners STD Racing and Jason Wood while winning 14 races under O’Neill’s skillful direction.

His storybook journey would include wins in the 2006 and 07 Santa Anita Handicaps as well as a stirring victory in the 2006 Pacific Classic.  The all-time leading California-bred with seven Grade I wins, Lava Man amassed total earnings of $5,268,706 from an overall race record of 47-17-8-5.

Inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame in 2015, he became a stable pony at age nine for O’Neill in May, 2010 and accompanied O’Neill’s I’ll Have Another to the starting gate prior to victories in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2012.

“He’s family to me and to everyone connected with him,” said O’Neill, upon Lava Man’s HOF enshrinement.  “You are lucky if you get a horse like this once in a lifetime.”

Here’s hoping some memories of past glory are rekindled when the amazing Lava Man is once again center stage on Saturday at The Great Race Place.                         –Mike Willman


Originally presented on Dec. 9, 1950 and on loan from the California Thoroughbred Foundation, the 1950 Hollywood Gold Cup trophy will adorn a Winner’s Circle ceremony for this Saturday’s Grade I, $300,000 Hollywood Gold Cup, to be run at the North American classic distance of a mile and one quarter over the Santa Anita main track.

Originally run in 1938 at Hollywood Park, the inaugural Gold Cup was won by the legendary Seabiscuit.  When Hollywood Park was shuttered following their 2013 season, the race was moved to Santa Anita and renamed the Gold Cup at Santa Anita.

Recently restored to its original name, the Hollywood Gold Cup will be run for the 81st time on Saturday and Santa Anita has announced that in commemoration of the renaming, the track has commissioned a new issue of the Gold Cup trophy which will be presented to this year’s winner upon completion.

Crafted by Shreve & Co., the 1950 trophy consists of more than 42 ounces of 14-Karat Gold, and is more than a foot long.

Won by racing Hall of Famer Noor, who was ridden to victory by Johnny Longden and was owned by the estate of Charles S. Howard (the man who also owned Seabiscuit), the 1950 Hollywood Gold Cup trophy is proudly displayed as part of the California Thoroughbred Foundation’s Charles S. Howard collection.

Noor, who carried co-high weight of 130 pounds, defeated Palestinian by one length while covering the mile and a quarter in 1:59 4/5.  With seven wins from 12 starts that year, including a 1 ¼ length triumph over the mighty Citation in the Santa Anita Handicap on Feb. 25, Noor was 1950’s leading money earner with $346,940.

Mike Willman

Hollywood Park 1950 Gold Cup

          Note: The California Thoroughbred Foundation is dedicated to the advancement of equine research and education.  Since 1958, the Foundation has operated as a non-profit 501(c)3 corporation that can accept tax-deductible contributions.  For more than five decades, the CTF has sponsored numerous research and educational projects and awarded scholarships to veterinary students at UC Davis and Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona.

The Foundation maintains the Carleton F. Burke Memorial Library, one of the most extensive collections of equine literature found anywhere.  Several generous donations of book collections and artwork form the core of the library, which is housed in the CTBA offices in Arcadia.  The resources of the CTF’s Carleton F. Burke Memorial Library are available to the public for research and pleasure.

FINISH LINESCezanne, a $3,650,000 son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin (2007 and 2008), makes his debut in Saturday’s sixth race under Flavien Prat. The 6 ½ furlong maiden allowance sprint attracted seven entrees. As is his wont, trainer Bob Baffert drew the rail for Cezanne, a three-year-old bay colt that has been firing bullets for his first start. He is named for the 19th century French artist and Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cezanne. Baffert also has another first timer in the race, Brazen, a $190,000 son of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper. Since the one hole was already taken, Brazen landed in post two.