Arcadia, Calif. — Who says Ed Hochuli retired? His spirit is alive and well, embodied by horse-racing stewards who decided the outcome of the biggest prep race yet on the road to the Kentucky Derby.
Upon further review – namely an interminable, 11-minute wait through a drenching shower Saturday afternoon here at Santa Anita – Bolt d’Oro (6-5) was awarded the victory in the $400,000 Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes after it appeared he had lost a nail-biting, blow-for-blow stretch duel by a head to betting favorite McKinzie (1-1).
“We’re going to the Kentucky Derby,” owner-trainer Mick Ruis shouted after the long, wet delay. “Winning is a bonus, but I was just proud of being that close – and (6½ lengths) in front of the rest of the horses.”
As euphoric as Ruis was, McKinzie’s trainer Bob Baffert was as angry. He sounded like a scorned NFL coach who did not care if he was about to be fined.
“That’s some bull,” he said – in part. “Javier had a better story I guess. I’m shocked after the way he hit us at the top of the stretch. I don’t know what they’re looking at. That’s why they should never talk to the jockeys and just watch it themselves.”
But it was not just something that Hall of Fame jockeys Javier Castellano and Mike Smith said. The three stewards who ruled unanimously also looked long and hard at – oh, yes – replays. You know. Under the hood. Get the tablet. Call New York. Tuck or no tuck? Catch or no catch?
In this case, while one of seven reggae bands on the infield played music that was at times profane for 17,377 sets of ears, the stewards called for an inquiry to look at video monitors. That is where they would finally decide if there was no foul, one foul or two fouls – and on whom.
Castellano, who flew in from Florida primarily to ride Bolt d’Oro for the first time in a race, also protested. He claimed he had been interfered with not once but twice by Smith and McKinzie. There is no doubt they bumped into each other twice at the end of the final turn. But stewards said the replays isolated on that part of the race did not give them enough to say who did what to whom. Oh, yes, they did use the “I” word.
“The shots that were shown were ‘inconclusive’ as to who initiated the contact,” said Darrel McHargue, the California Horse Racing Board’s chief steward who was not one of the three who made the decision.
But in a written statement handed out to the working media, McHargue declared that the decisive bump came later, saying “the incident inside the sixteenth pole was clear.”
That was where McKinzie was getting a left-handed whip from Smith – and where the two horses banged into each other’s sides.
“McKinzie shifted Bolt d’Oro out off his path and cost him a better placing,” McHargue said. “The margin of win was only a head, so therefore McKinzie was taken down.”
But that was like saying Golden Tate really scored at the end of the game. Or didn’t.
“McKinzie kept coming out, kept coming out, bumping, bumping, bumping,” Castellano said. “I think I bumped him, but still he intimidated my horse, and (Bolt d’Oro) just got beat by the wire. If (McKinzie) would’ve won by two lengths, OK.”
Smith begged to differ. “That last hit where he hit me in the ass, he turned me out. At the quarter pole, after the quarter pole and through the lane, he hit me and turned me out. He’s got the whole racetrack, and he’s on top of me on the fence.”
The wait for track caller Michael Wrona’s announcement of the stewards’ ruling took more than six times longer than the race itself. The 1 1/16 miles were covered in 1:42.71 in a duel that lived up to the hype surrounding two colts that have taken turns this winter as favorites in Kentucky Derby futures betting.
While McKinzie was never more than 1½ lengths off the lead set by expected pace-setter Lombo (26-1), Bolt d’Oro was a close third most of the way before making his big move in the final turn. When they bumped and ran into the stretch, there was no question this would be the two-horse race that had been eagerly anticipated.
Kanthaka (6-1) sat back most of the race and finished a distant third.
Bolt d’Oro wound up with 50 qualifying points, giving him the lead with 64 total and making him certain to get a spot in the Kentucky Derby. McKinzie added 20 points to bring him to 40 – 10 of which, coincidentally, came when he was the beneficiary of a stewards’ interference ruling last December against first-place finisher Solomini just down the road in the Los Alamitos Futurity. One of the three stewards involved in promoting McKinzie that day – Scott Chaney – was also in on Saturday’s unanimous decision to take McKinzie down.
“We were the best two horses in the race,” Castellano said. “I just want to see who the better horse is.”
That may come next month in a rematch here in the Santa Anita Derby. And of course in eight weeks at Churchill Downs – Hochuli, er, Chaney and his colleagues permitting.
Enticed cruises to victory in Gotham
Once Júnior Alvarado let loose of the tight hold he had on Enticed (3-1), Saturday’s $300,000 Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, N.Y., became a foregone conclusion.
The Godolphin colt broke from the outside post and was purposely kept wide by Alvarado the whole race, negotiating the one-turn mile in 1:38.24 and coasting to a 2¾-length victory that assures him of a berth in the Kentucky Derby.
“The ‘clean-faced’ plan worked out well,” winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said from his winter base in Florida. “Everything went perfect.”
Gaining ground down the middle of the track in the homestretch, Enticed overtook pace-setting Old Time Revival (35-1) to prevent yet another double-digit upset in the Derby preps worth 50 points to the winner. Never closer than three lengths, the favorite Free Drop Billy (8-5) finished third, four lengths behind runner-up Old Time Revival.
McLaughlin said connections will “hopefully look at the Wood Memorial” at Aqueduct next month. “I’ve got to talk to (Godolphin USA president) Jimmy Bell about bringing him back down here to train and then fly him back.”
Long shot Quip is Tampa Bay’s quickest
Quip (19-1) became the third big long shot in a row to win a Derby prep Saturday when jockey Florent Geroux guided him from just off the lead to finish first in the $400,000 Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.
With a Kentucky Derby trip at stake in the 1 1/16-mile race, it was the biggest win yet for trainer Rodolphe Brisset, a former jockey who had spent most of his career as the top assistant to Hall of Famer Bill Mott.
“It was a matter if they were going to let us go (a half-mile) in 47 seconds or 49. I guess they let us go in 49 (actually, 49.48), which is a little surprising to me. I’m not sure if we had him 100 percent, but he was fit enough to win.”
Last month’s Sam F. Davis winner Flameaway (6-1) finished second, a length behind Quip and a neck ahead of the favorite World Of Trouble (8-5), which faded in the stretch to third after setting the early pace. The winning time was 1:44.72.
Winning owner Elliott Walden of WinStar Farm did not commit to any particular race to be Quip’s final prep before going to Churchill Downs.
Accelerate splashes to Big ’Cap victory
In a race that has lost a lot of its sheen from the days when it was attracting the likes of Seabiscuit, Spectacular Bid and John Henry, it was a 2017 giant killer that ran to an impressive victory in the Grade 1 $600,000 Santa Anita Handicap.
The favorite Accelerate (5-2), perhaps best known as the first horse to derail Arrogate last summer at Del Mar, took the lead with a decisive move at the top of the stretch and finished 5½ lengths ahead of Mubtaahij (5-2). Fear The Cowboy (9-2) was another seven lengths behind in third.
The decline of the Big ’Cap has coincided with the rise of the $10 million Dubai World Cup, which has attracted a good many horses that probably would have run here. Pavel, which does not have a particularly impressive résumé, became the latest to follow that trend when owner Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O’Neill decided to take him from his home base here in southern California and send him to Meydan for the race in three weeks.
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