January 28, 2023

Santa Anita Park jockeys and trainers — winter success and spring potential

by Scott Shapiro

While little changes with the start of the new meeting at Santa Anita Park this weekend, the extra day off and the fresh start gives us an opportunity to look back at those that had success over the past few months, as well as those that will use the clean slate as a chance to rebound from a less than ideal start to 2017.

For the most part it was familiar faces at the top of the jockey and trainer standings during the first three plus months at “The Great Race Place.”

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Flavien Prat continued to demonstrate that he is one of the best riders on the West Coast by capturing his first Santa Anita jockey title. His 62 wins in 272 starts and earnings surpassing $3.9 million dollars gave him his first outright riding championship in Southern California. There is no reason to expect his success to stop here. He has won big races for top barns, has great physical tools and a strong mental approach. His meet was topped off with a win on Richard Mandella-conditioned Paradise Woods in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks.

Perennial leading jockey Rafael Bejarano missed time in February and at the beginning of March, but still managed to finish in third place with 38 wins in 191 mounts this winter. He closed strong with five victories in 14 mounts and appears back on the top of his game as we head into the spring and summer. Expect more of the same from the Peruvian born rider.

Hall of Famer Mike Smith continued to win a plethora of big races in Southern California during the early part of 2017 with 10 graded stakes victories during the winter meeting. His 19 wins in 67 starts and over $2.1 million in earnings illustrate why he continues to get mounts on some of the world’s fastest racehorses. With horses like Arrogate, Unique Bella and Sircat Sally in his book it is hard to imagine the run of success does not continue.

On the other end of the spectrum this winter was three-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey Victor Espinoza. Espinoza won just 11 of his 83 mounts during the early part of the 2017 calendar and endured a zero for 41 streak that included two mounts in Arkansas. The 44-year-old veteran was able to salvage the meet with a win in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby aboard Gormley. Despite some questionable decisions at times and a lack of desire to save ground in other instances, Espinoza should turn things around this spring.

Jerry Hollendorfer had a subpar 2016 outside of the brilliance of champion filly Songbird, but the “Dorf” bounced back to have an incredibly strong winter meeting in Arcadia.  He surpassed Peter Miller late to win the trainer title with 38 wins in 158 starts. Hollendorfer’s barn is loaded including three-year-old filly Unique Bella who should be back in training from an injured shin before summer.  Expect one of the region’s best trainers to be “in the mix” for the spring championship as well.

Peter Miller has been on some tear since dominating the Bing Crosby meeting at Del Mar this fall. He had yet another strong meet this winter capturing 35 victories. With the meet’s leading owner Rockingham Ranch as part of his arsenal, Miller should continue to dominate claiming races and one-turn events as we move into the middle of 2017.

Veteran conditioner Bill Spawr was white-hot over the past few months with a much smaller barn than some of the other top ones at Santa Anita. With limited stock it will be hard for Spawr to win at the same 38 percent clip he won at over the winter, but he still will have his runners spotted well and ready to roll.

Trainer Bob Baffert as usual posted solid numbers this winter, but his big horse Arrogate raced outside of Southern California in both of his starts in 2017. Baffert lost his Derby hopeful Mastery to an injury after a dominating win in the Grade 2 San Felipe, but his barn is loaded so his 24% winning percentage should be equaled or surpassed this spring.

Racing resumes Friday afternoon at Santa Anita Park and continues until the Fourth of July. I look forward it!