April 21, 2024

Imagination edges Wine Me Up in close San Felipe battle

Imagination (outside), with Frankie Dettori aboard, edges stablemate Wine Me Up in the San Felipe S. (G2) at Santa Anita (Photo by Horsephotos.com)

A rough run around the first turn didn’t stop Imagination from battling to victory in Sunday’s $300,000 San Felipe S. (G2) at Santa Anita.

The 1 1/16-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier lost its expected favorite when the undefeated Nysos scratched to await the April 6 Santa Anita Derby (G1). His defection left a four-horse field for the San Felipe, with Imagination favored at 9-10 under internationally renowned jockey Frankie Dettori.

When the gates opened, American Pharoah (G1) and Robert B. Lewis (G3) runner-up Wine Me Up broke on top and dashed to the lead over the rail-drawn Scatify, with Imagination up close on the outside and Mc Vay behind rivals in fourth place. As the field bunched up heading into the first turn, Mc Vay started tossing his head and Scatify likewise reacted to the tight quarters, drifted out and colliding hard with Imagination while Mc Vay spun quite wide.

Eventually the field settled down with Wine Me Up leading through an opening quarter-mile in :23.51, but then Dettori allowed Imagination to advance while racing wide down the backstretch, and the favorite assumed command by one length through half a mile in :47.04.

“He broke out and we went to the clubhouse turn the guy behind me struck into me. My horse got frightened, and I took him back to get him wide to get him to relax and get him back into the race,” explained Dettori.

From then on, an intense battle ensued as Wine Me Up fought back and Imagination refused to yield. Wine Me Up got his head in front through six furlongs in 1:11.51, but Imagination reclaimed the slightest advantage through one mile in 1:37.86. They remained locked together through the final sixteenth, with Imagination ultimately proving best by a head in 1:44.55.

“He fought a great duel. He was full of heart,” said Dettori.

Mc Vay fought on to finish third, 6 3/4 lengths lengths behind the top pair, while Scatify was essentially eased home in fourth place. There was an inquiry into the trouble on the first turn, but the stewards ruled no change after deeming Scatify at fault.

Owned by the partnership of SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Stonestreet Stables, Dianne Bashor, Robert E. Masterson, Waves Edge Capital, Catherine Donovan, and Tom J. Ryan, Imagination was bred in Kentucky by Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds.

“That was a great race. I didn’t know which way it went at the wire,” said co-owner Ryan. “It was a little bit of a messy race early on, he had to recollect himself. He kind of got scared, these are young three-year-old colts, they are learning their craft. It is amazing you could have a 12-horse field and nothing, and in a four-horse field anything can happen.

“It’s good to see him have the confidence to put it back together and not back down from a fight and get there at the wire. I think there is a lot of potential in this horse. He is just learning as he goes, and I think the further the better. He is a classy colt, he’s always shown it, he looks it and thankfully his ability matches his looks.”

Imagination and Wine Me Up are both conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who was picking up a record-extending ninth San Felipe victory. But since Baffert is suspended by Churchill Downs Inc., horses trained by Baffert are ineligible to earn Road to the Kentucky Derby qualification points, and the points that would have been awarded to Imagination and Wine Me Up (50 points and 25 points, respectively) were vacated.

Mc Vay (15 points) and Scatify (10 points) did earn points for rounding out the top four, boosting their respective totals to 19 and 16. Both exit the weekend ranked in the top 20 on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.

Points aside, Imagination took home the winner’s share of the purse ($180,000), which boosted his career earnings to $256,800. Never out of the exacta in five starts, Imagination entered the San Felipe off a runner-up finish in a fast $100,000 allowance optional claimer at Santa Anita. The $1.05 million yearling acquisition is progressing in the right direction and could potentially join Nysos in the Santa Anita Derby next month.