June 13, 2024

Anisette back on song in American Oaks; Easter wins third straight in San Gabriel

Anisette wins the American Oaks (G1 at Santa Anita Park (
Anisette wins the American Oaks (G1) at Santa Anita Park (Photo by Benoit Photography)

The graded stakes action at Santa Anita got off to a formful start on Tuesday, courtesy of odds-on favorites Anisette and Easter, respectively, in the $300,000 American Oaks (G1) and $200,500 San Gabriel (G2). Later in the $200,500 Mathis Mile (G2), Watsonville battled back to deny the 7-10 Almendares, narrowly averting a favorites’ sweep of the turf stakes.

American Oaks (G1)

The leading sophomore turf filly following stunning wins in the San Clemente (G2) and Del Mar Oaks (G1) over the summer, Anisette suffered reverses in the ensuing Rodeo Drive (G2) and Autumn Miss (G3). But the Leonard Powell pupil hadn’t lost much in defeat, considering that she was second-best to the classy older mare Didia in the former, and she had no chance of catching the runaway Ruby Nell on the cutback to a mile in the latter. The 1 1/4-mile American Oaks figured to play to her strengths, and Anisette seized the opportunity to regain the winning habit at 3-5 odds.

Nestled in a ground-saving spot by regular pilot Umberto Rispoli, Anisette traveled within striking range in a tactical race. Be Your Best opted to take the initiative, tracked by Musical Mischief through fractions of :24.76, :48.88, 1:13.08 on the firm course. Turning for home, Be Your Best spurted away from her pace attendant, only to find Anisette gaining ominously.

The outcome wasn’t in doubt as Anisette stamped her authority by 1 3/4 widening lengths. The British-bred clocked 2:00.22 and boosted her bankroll to $606,866 from her 9-5-3-0 line.

Be Your Best had two lengths to spare over Musical Mischief. Sakura Flavor, who raced in tandem with Anisette early, was unable to advance in fourth, while Elounda Queen trailed. The field was reduced by the scratches of Khinjani and Powell’s other entrant, Grace Period.

Anisette, who sports the colors of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, promises to remain a divisional force in 2024.

“Her last two races, she didn’t win, but there were circumstances,” Powell noted. “I didn’t blame her, and she made amends today. She’s been a part of the exacta for six straight races (stateside – eight if you include her British career).

“She’s the goods. Aron Wellman (of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners) and I have chosen to give her plenty of time in between races, and that’s probably the key of keeping her at the top of her game. She is happy and healthy, so that is the main thing.”

Anisette, a daughter of the Cape Cross stallion Awtaad, brought just $37,712 as a yearling at the Tattersalls Somerville Sale. Her dam, Tutti Frutti, is a Teofilo half-sister to Group 1 queen Sultanina.

San Gabriel (G2)

French import Easter remained perfect since transferring his base of operations from the East Coast to southern California. Bet down to 7-10 favoritism off scores in the Oct. 28 Lure S. here and the Nov. 25 Seabiscuit H. (G2) at Del Mar, the deep closer delivered another whirlwind finish to make it a hat trick.

Easter settled at the rear for Antonio Fresu as his Phil D’Amato stablemate, Tio Magico, took up a close stalking position. Tio Magico kept tabs on front-running Eastern Ocean, the mount of new transplant Frankie Dettori, who got away with steady splits of :24.64 and :48.76. But Eastern Ocean wasn’t good enough to capitalize on Dettori’s rating job, and he was already looking vulnerable when Tio Magico loomed nearer through six furlongs in 1:12.66.

After Tio Magico pounced entering the stretch, Missed the Cut exploited a perfect seam to unleash his rally. Ordinarily, saving ground while enjoying first run might have proved a winning formula, but not this time. Missed the Cut appeared dour as he gradually reeled in Tio Magico. By that point, Easter was in full flight, and his superior kick carried the day. Swooping late to win going away by 1 1/4 lengths, the favorite clocked 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.60.

Missed the Cut nosed out Tio Magico to thwart a D’Amato exacta. Next came a one-paced War at Sea, Eastern Ocean, and Astronaut.

Madaket Stables’ Easter improved his scorecard to 19-7-3-3, $564,653. Initially trained by Fabrice Chappet in his homeland, the dark bay was on the French classic trail in 2021. Easter was runner-up in the Prix Omnium II and fourth in the Prix de Fontainebleau (G3), but found the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) (G1) beyond him when 10th behind St Mark’s Basilica.

Sold for $173,940 at that fall’s Arqana Arc Sale, Easter joined Graham Motion stateside. Although he won a pair of allowances at Aqueduct and Belmont, respectively, he was unable to make his presence felt in a couple of stakes tries back East. Easter broke through immediately when Motion dispatched him to Santa Anita for the Lure, and he accordingly switched to D’Amato to become a fixture on the circuit.

“I think two things helped today,” D’Amato said following the San Gabriel. “When he won under Graham (in the Lure), he got his confidence up. We also learned that he liked the firmer turf courses over here. Between those two things and getting to know his quirks – he is a very quirky horse – and just knowing what he likes to do, and just keep him happy. I think hopefully the sky’s the limit.”

By Exosphere, an Australian Group 1-winning son of the great Lonhro, Easter is out of the Group 3-placed Exceed and Excel mare Excellent Girl. That makes him a half-brother to Group 3 scorer Sweety Dream, herself the dam of stakes heroines Are We Dreaming and Romantic Style.

Mathis Mile (G2)

Fresu made it a double aboard the 9-2 Watsonville, who was all heart to give trainer Mark Glatt his third win on the opening day card.

Campaigned by the partnership of Pine Racing Stables and Saints or Sinners, Watsonville had run creditably in his two prior stakes attempts. The late-developing son of Jack Milton struck the front before tiring to sixth in the Twilight Derby (G2), then checked in fourth in the Hollywood Derby (G1). Reverting in trip to a mile helped him earn his first stakes laurel here.

Watsonville prompted in second as Calm Sea carved out fractions of :23.77 and :48.20. As soon as Watsonville tackled Calm Sea passing six furlongs in 1:11.76, Almendares accosted him in turn and grabbed a slim lead. But just when the odds-on favorite appeared ready to edge away, he had a fight on his hands. Watsonville rose to the challenge and forced his nose in front at the wire in 1:34.55.

Dandy Man Shines closed from last for third, another three-quarters of a length astern of Almendares. Panic Alarm, Ah Jeez, and Calm Sea rounded out the order of finish after Reiquist was withdrawn.

Watsonville now sports a mark of 7-3-1-0, $253,360. Unraced at two, the chestnut tuned up in two turf sprint maidens at Santa Anita this spring. He moved forward on the stretch-out at Del Mar to post back-to-back wins, in a July 29 maiden and Sept. 4 allowance, and graduate to graded stakes.

Purchased for $240,000 as an OBS April juvenile, Watsonville is a full brother to Chilean Group 3-placed New Love. They were produced by the Kitten’s Joy mare Grand Slam Kitten, herself a full sister to Grade 3 victress Kitten Kaboodle and a half to Grade 1-placed Slam Dunk.