Older horses take spotlight in new-look Santa Anita stakes

awincze@herald-leader.comSeptember 28, 2012 

Trainer Larry Jones guided Joyful Victory during preparation for the 137th Kentucky Derby in 2011. Joyful Victory will make her 13th career start over her eighth track Saturday at Santa Anita.


The names have changed, necessitating a cheat sheet to figure out which race is which.

No matter the monikers Saturday's Santa Anita Park graded stakes now carry, their significance remains intact — particularly in a year when the Breeders' Cup World Championships are taking place on its surface.

Shortly after the last of Belmont Park's five Grade I races goes off during its Super Saturday card, the new-look Santa Anita stakes will take the baton with five Grade I contests.

Santa Anita renamed a total of 14 stakes including six Grade I races to further separate itself after its lease with Oak Tree Racing Association expired in 2010.

What were formerly the Goodwood, Lady's Secret, Yellow Ribbon, Oak Leaf and Norfolk Stakes are now the Awesome Again, Zenyatta, Rodeo Drive, Chandelier and FrontRunner Stakes, respectively.

Belmont's Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup has six Grade I winners in its 10-horse field, including Fort Larned, Ron the Greek, Stay Thirsty and Flat Out. Top older horses are also prevalent in the 11⁄8-mile $250,000 Awesome Again Stakes with Grade I winners Game On Dude, Richard's Kid and Rail Trip reuniting after finishing second, third, and fourth to 3-year-old Dullahan in the Grade I Pacific Classic on Aug. 26.

"I think there's enough speed in there to set it up. I think we should be in a good spot and I love picking up (jockey) Garrett (Gomez) for the race," said Dennis O'Neill, brother of trainer Doug O'Neill who conditions Richard's Kid. "Hopefully we're sitting in the garden spot and we mow 'em down. The Del Mar race (Pacific Classic) was a throw out. He had a horrendous trip, got left coming out of there and just got dead-stopped when he was trying to make his run."

Among the many trainers juggling a handful of leading runners this weekend is Ron Ellis, who saddles the aforementioned Rail Trip and multiple Grade I winner Include Me Out in the Zenyatta Stakes.

Now age 7, Rail Trip is still dangerous even if he is a step slower than during his heyday of a couple years ago. On the other hand, his Jay Em Ess-owned stablemate Include Me Out might be the best older female in training — not that Ellis thinks anyone outside of California realizes that.

Champion Royal Delta and multiple Grade I winner It's Tricky — who will meet for the fifth time in their careers in Saturday's Grade I Beldame at Belmont — have been publicized as the glamour girls most of the year. Include Me Out, meanwhile, has barely put a hoof wrong in winning four graded stakes from five starts thus far in 2012 including the Grade I Santa Margarita Stakes at Santa Anita in March and the Grade I Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 4.

"To tell you the truth, I've been a little insulted by the lack of respect my filly's gotten," Ellis said. "I understand the East Coast bias and the press building up those other fillies, but, you know, my filly loves that racetrack. She's done everything that we've asked of her this year.

"I mostly chalk it up to the press kind of building those horses up. Usually when they hook our California horses reality sets in."

Kentucky-based trainer Larry Jones is willing to test that notion. Jones is making his first visit to Santa Anita Park to saddle graded stakes winner Joyful Victory in the 11⁄16-mile Zenyatta Stakes in what will be her 13th career start over eight different tracks.

"We didn't have to come to California just for the fun of it, but she was training so well, we felt now was the time to give her that opportunity," Jones said.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.

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