Thanks to rain that drenched the normally sunny Southern California venue, Santa Anita Park was forced to move both the San Gabriel Stakes and Las Cienegas to the main track on Saturday. The two races were also automatically downgraded, pending review by the American Graded Stakes Committee, so the Las Cienegas lost its Grade 3 status and the San Gabriel was run as a Grade 3.
In the end, none of that mattered to the winners.
Blue Tone grabbed command of the $201,035 San Gabriel and never looked back en route to a 1 1/4-length score. Jockey Kent Desormeaux was aboard the Bob Hess Jr. trainee, who turned back a challenge from Itsinthepost during the stretch run.
“He broke horribly today and I didn’t know if he had anything left at the half-mile pole. I absolutely nursed him to the quarter-pole and he showed all the class that he has and held them at bay,” Desormeaux said.
“Not for nothing but he must be a mudder. He won’t step in a puddle on the road out to the racetrack in the mornings, but I walked him out onto the track today and he was paddling in it, like a child in the mud. He was like a little kid. He was enjoying himself.”
Blue Tone completed 1 1/8 miles over the off surface in 1:49.82 after setting splits of :23.16, :47.17, 1:11.56 and 1:36.72. The eight-year-old gelding son of Birdstone is campaigned by Schroeder Farms LLC, Beverly Engelberg and Jan Steeper.
“It was apparent there wasn’t any pace in the race,” Hess said. “The other day when he stumbled (out of the gate when finishing fourth in the Native Diver Handicap [G3] on November 27), we couldn’t have beaten the winner, but I thought we could’ve been second.
“He’s a big lumbering horse and when he’s able to run like this, he’s a lot better. We’ve got some money now, so we’re going to run next at Gulfstream in the Poseidon on January 28. It’s $400,000 and we’re going to take a shot.”
Blue Tone, who won the 2014 Harry F. Brubaker Stakes and last year’s Santana Mile, improved his career line to read 25-7-4-3, $558,870.
Earlier, Watch This Cat was making just her second career stakes start when lining up in Saturday’s $98,000 Las Cienegas but had no trouble prevailing against three rivals in the 6 1/2-furlong affair under jockey Corey Nakatani. The duo easily collared early pacesetter Paquita Coqueta and drew off for the 8 1/2-length victory in a final time of 1:16.41.
“She loved it. She didn’t turn a hair out there and she was focused and spot on. She was ready to go today,”Nakatani said. “I was going down the backside with a big grin on my face. I was just cruising. I pounced on them when she was ready to go. I just stayed out of her way.”
Trained by Richard Baltas for Harry Bederian, Harout Kamberian and Hagop Nakkashian, Watch This Cat earned her third straight score and first stakes victory. Her only prior black-type attempt resulted in a fifth-place effort in 2015 Selene Stakes (Can-G3) at Woodbine.
“This horse has won down the hill both times and she’s impressed me. I was excited about today but the only thing was that we just didn’t know about the dirt,” Baltas remarked. “I just told Corey to let her have her way. Let her get relaxed and run where she wants to run and he did. He rode her perfectly.”
The five-year-old daughter of Eskendereya improved her career mark to 4-4-1 from 16 career starts and has now banked $164,220 in lifetime earnings.