From the Santa Anita Media Team:
Mike Smith, as is his wont, bonds with most horses he has ridden in a spectacular career going on four decades, but perhaps none more so than with Hard Not to Love, a “special needs” stakes winner who lost her left eye when kicked by another horse in a paddock accident as a youngster.
The 54-year-old Hall of Fame member has ridden the four-year-old daughter of Hard Spun twice, most recently in the Grade I La Brea Stakes, guiding her from ninth and last to win by 2 ¼ lengths. Next up, Saturday’s Grade II Santa Monica Stakes, also at seven furlongs.
“She’s doing really well and I’m very excited about her,” Smith said, “especially when she runs long, even though she’s already won going short (four wins in five career races, none longer than seven furlongs).
“I’m waiting for the two turns with her. I really think she’s going to like it; I could be wrong, although we know seven-eighths should be no problem.”
Smith, working hand in hand with trainer John Shirreffs to alleviate the filly’s uneasiness viewing the world only half as well as normally, is pleased with her development as she strives to become a more “typical” Thoroughbred.
“She’s got one eye but she’s learning every day to make adjustments and progress,” Smith said. “She has a bit of anxiety, but other than that, she’s gotten more sure of herself, more confident and more trusting of people.”
SANTA MONICA ON HOLD FOR QUEEN BEE TO YOU
The Santa Monica Stakes is on hold for streaking bargain claim Queen Bee to You, winner of three straight stakes including two Grade III’s, the Bayakoa and the La Canada in her last two starts.
“She grabbed a quarter leaving the gate in the La Canada, but we’re still contemplating the Santa Monica,” trainer Andrew Lerner said Sunday morning. “It’s amazing how well she ran after doing that at the start of the race (eventually winning by a nose in a thrilling stretch-long duel with Der Lu).
“We’re dealing with it, and the Santa Monica is still possible, but if we don’t run there, we’ll go in the Spring Fever ($100,000 at six furlongs on Feb. 23) and use that as a prep race for the Beholder Mile (Grade I, $400,000 on March 14). That’s our backup plan.”
SANTA ANITA OAKS, KENTUCKY OAKS LOOM FOR VENETIAN HARBOR
To no one’s surprise, Richard Baltas has Oaks on his mind after Venetian Harbor’s smashing 9 ¼-length triumph in Saturday’s Grade II Las Virgenes Stakes at one mile, the first race around two turns in the three-race career for the daughter of Munnings.
Sent off as the 3-10 favorite, Venetian Harbor went to the front and improved her position with Flavien Prat merely hand-riding her into the stretch and taking a long hold late.
“She came back really good,” Baltas said Sunday. “I jogged her this morning and she’s 100 percent sound. I knew she was very good, because I never had a horse break her maiden like she did (winning by 10 ¾ lengths at 6 ½ furlongs on Dec. 29).
“I thought she was a special filly. I was concerned about the two turns, but she did even better than I thought. She was very strong in the beginning, let those horses come to her, then re-broke. That’s not an easy thing to do.”
Asked if an Oaks program was now on her agenda, Baltas said, “probably yes,” alluding to the Grade II Santa Anita Oaks on April 4 and the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs May 1.
ALEXANDER HOMEBRED WINNER HONORS LEGENDARY BABE RUTH
From Cal McClish to Moose Skowron to Junior Gilliam, Ted Kluszewski, Ryan Duren and many others, owner/breeder Nick Alexander has named a number of Thoroughbreds for notable MLB players from years gone by, but none of those came close, in terms of stature, to yesterday’s fourth race winner, George Herman Ruth–named of course for the legendary Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth.
A three-year-old grey colt by Grazen, out of Alexander’s Afleet Alex mare Shesabronxbomber, George Herman Ruth stretched out to a flat mile on turf versus fellow Cal-bred maiden sophomores yesterday for trainer Phil D’Amato and responded with a half-length win under Abel Cedillo. Off at 10-1, he paid $22, nice shipping money for pitchers and catchers getting ready to report for spring training in Arizona or Florida this week.
FINISH LINES: Santa Anita will be dark for live racing Monday through Thursday, Feb. 10 through 13, but resume live action 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14. First post time on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Presidents’ Day, Feb. 17, is 12:30 p.m. There will be satellite wagering Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 12 and 13 with free General Admission and free parking. Admission gates open at 10 a.m. Santa Anita offers another of its popular Dollar Days on Presidents’ Day, with beer and soda on sale for a buck and hot dogs for $2. First post time for the holiday program is 12:30 p.m.