Santa Anita H.
Running 1 1/4 miles has long been considered the classic test of the American Thoroughbred. Brilliant milers can stretch their speed over 1 1/8 miles, but handling 1 1/4 miles requires at least one dose of stamina.
The importance of stamina was reiterated in the historic $400,000 Santa Anita H. (G1) on an exciting Saturday of racing at Santa Anita. The favorite at 11-10 was the undefeated Maxfield, a Grade 1 winner with four straight stakes wins under his belt. But the Godolphin homebred had never run farther than 1 1/16 miles, and in the final testing furlongs of the 1 1/4-mile “Big ‘Cap,” it was the stoutly bred Idol whose stamina won the day.
A son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of a mare by Belmont (G1) winner A.P. Indy, Idol required almost every yard of the classic distance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Patiently ridden by jockey Joel Rosario, the Richard Baltas trainee was content to settle in seventh place for most of the journey, biding his time as longshot King Guillermo carved out fractions of :22.82, :47.12, and 1:12.26.
San Pasqual (G2) winner Express Train was the first to mount a challenge, advancing from fourth to first place around the far turn. He was followed closely by Maxfield, gaining ground from midpack, but Express Train always had more momentum and forged to a two-length lead passing the eighth pole.
Had the Santa Anita H. been contested over 1 1/8 miles, Express Train might have been a comfortable winner. But in the final furlong, Idol emerged on the scene. Relishing the extended nature of the 1 1/4-mile journey, Idol came flying from out of the clouds to catch Express Train in the shadow of the wire, prevailing by a half-length in 2:02.46.
“My horse loves this distance. I just wanted to keep him away from the rail and he handled it easily. He responded when it came time to run and he had some kick,” Rosario said of the improving four-year-old, who is owned by Calvin Nguyen. “I appreciate the opportunity Richard Baltas gave me for this ride. I had never been on him. I watched all his races and I could see he tries hard every time. What a strong finish today! He ran really big.”
Express Train held gamely for second place, 1 1/2 lengths clear of Maxfield, while Independence Hall, Tizamagician, Kiss Today Goodbye, Coastal Defense, and King Guillermo trailed the field.
The Santa Anita H. marked a significant reversal of form from the 1 1/8-mile San Pasqual, a race in which Idol ran into traffic on the far turn before rallying belatedly to finish third. Benefiting from a clean journey and the longer distance, Idol turned the tables on Express Train and secured his first graded stakes win from six starts.
“It’s unbelievable, I’ve been coming here since I was 13 years old,” said Baltas. “Before I even got to be a horse trainer, I saw all the greats run here in the Big ‘Cap, and you never think that you’re going to be here, but you keep working hard and God blessed you.”
The Santa Anita H. concluded a series of back-to-back-to-back graded stakes on Santa Anita’s Saturday card. The sequence began with the seven-furlong, $200,000 San Carlos S. (G2), in which Brickyard Ride left no doubt about his superiority. Gunning to the lead through fractions of :21.63 and :43.93, the California-bred son of Clubhouse Ride was tons the best down the lane, cruising clear to win by four lengths in a snappy 1:21.51.
Tigre Di Slugo and Exaulted gained ground late to finish second and third, but neither was a match for Brickyard Ride, an Alfred Pais homebred trained by Craig Lewis and ridden to victory by Alexis Centeno. Major Cabbie, Storm the Court, Manhattan Up, Strongconstitution, Extra Hope, and Loud Mouth completed the order of finish.
“Well, speed kills and he killed today with his speed,” said Lewis of Brickyard Ride, who had previously won the California Cup Sprint S. by daylight. “He’s blessed with a lot of natural speed obviously, he’s learning how to relax, he’s maturing, he’s a big powerful horse. He reached for ground like a horse that could run forever. He’s starting to look like he could be the goods.”
In between the Santa Anita H. and the San Carlos came the $400,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1). A deep field assembled for the one-mile turf test, but the star of the show was the improving four-year-old Hit the Road. Fresh off a victory in Santa Anita’s Thunder Road (G3), the son of More Than Ready saved ground early under jockey Florent Geroux, then threaded his way between rivals and up the rail to win by a neck in 1:34.48.
Favored Smooth Like Strait held for second after pressing the pace, while Count Again closed ground furiously to finish another neck behind in third place. Flavius, Royal Ship, Casa Creed, Ride a Comet, Spirit Animal, Flying Scotsman, and Social Paranoia trailed the field.
“The trip made the difference; we got very lucky with the trip. It opened up at the right time, and the horse got the job done,” Geroux said. “It was all heart. Sometimes when you have to go through a tight spot the horse doesn’t necessarily cooperate, but he did great and did everything I asked him to.”
For both Hit the Road and trainer Dan Blacker, the Kilroe Mile was a milestone first success at the Grade 1 level. And it’s unlikely to be their last if Hit the Road maintains his current level of form. The D K Racing et al colorbearer has improved by leaps and bounds in recent starts and figures to enjoy a highly productive 2021 campaign.