Trainer Dean Greenman looked around the ranks of U.S. handicap horses during the past week, didn't see much to scare him off and decided he could have a very good year with his 4-year-old gelding, I Love Silver.
"He's done very well but hasn't won a whole lot of races because he's had to face horses like Point Given," Greenman said while entering I Love Silver for Saturday's $200,000 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes at Santa Anita.
"Right now," he continued, "there really aren't any standouts around the country. There's no Tiznows. There's no Point Givens. There's no Silver Charms. So somebody has to step up to the plate."
Someone undoubtedly will. But if it's to be I Love Silver, it will be later. Greenman scratched the Silver Ghost gelding before the race with what he called a minor mucous infection -- basically, a cold.
But his point remains valid. And nowhere is it better illustrated than in Saturday's $100,000 Skip Away Handicap at Gulfstream Park. With the potential heavyweights of the division either just starting comeback efforts or still on the sidelines, the race was won by a 9-year-old veteran, Sir Bear.
Sir Bear, a local favorite making his 64th career start, rolled from the back of the pack to win by ½ length over comebacking Red Bullet, who had some traffic trouble in the first turn. Hal's Hope was another ½ length back in third.
Winning trainer Ralph Ziadie had it in perspective.
"I just told somebody before the race, 'You know, he and I are the same age now if you figure seven years to one for horse to humans. I'm 63.' For him to do this at his age -- he's a phenomenon. He's one of a kind. He loves this track. He's unbelievable."
Still, Ziadie wouldn't commit his aging steed to the year's first major East Coast test for older horses -- the Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream on Feb. 9. That race is expected to attract Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, among others.
"We'll see," said Ziadie. "I'll have to see how he looks tomorrow and take it day by day." He said the Gulfstream Park Handicap, which Sir Bear won last year, might be an alternate goal.
Red Bullet's rider, Jerry Bailey, said his lightly raced 5-year-old, who has made only three starts since July of 2000, "rallied like I wanted but it took too much out of him and he got a little tired at the end."
Trainer Joe Orseno said Sunday Red Bullet still is being pointed for the Donn. "We trained him for a mile and a sixteenth and he just got a little tired," Orseno said.
In the San Fernando, meanwhile, Western Pride got to the early lead over Orientate and the duo race that way all the way to the wire. The margin was 1 length, with Fancy As finishing third. The favorite, Momentum, got home fifth.
Western Pride, a Florida-bred son of Way West, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:41.30 and trainer James Chapman said his next race "will be his best race."
Chapman said that will be the Strub Stakes -- followed by either the Santa Anita Handicap or the Dubai World Cup.
Western Pride won seven of his 12 starts as a 3-year-old, including back-to-back victories in the Ohio Derby and the Calder Derby.
Kentucky Derby preps
The Bob Baffert-Mike Pegram express is cranking up again. The duo that sent Real Quiet to Kentucky Derby glory got home first in Saturday's $125,000 Golden Gate Derby with Danthebluegrassman. The Pioneering colt had to work for the win though, barely easing by Cappuchino in the shadow of the wire. Winning rider Joe Steiner said Baffert "called me in the winner's circle and said, 'Who in the hell do you think you are, Pat Day? Whey didn't you just run by that horse?' That's what I thought I was going to do...." Pegram said Danthebluegrassman, winner of the Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate last month, is nominated to the Triple Crown. "This horse has a big heart and is a big colt and when you have that, you can have big dreams," he added. U S S Tinosa was third in the 1 1/16-furlong race, with Cal Cup Juvenile winner Yougottawanna fourth.
The Baffert barn sent out another 3-year-old winner in Sunday's $100,000 San Miguel Stakes at Santa Anita -- Popular. The Saint Ballado colt, with Victor Espinosa up, dueled with favorite Roman Dancer through most of the 6 furlongs before putting a nose in front under the wire. Royal Moro was well back in third. "I have a lot of confidence in this horse and I rode him hard the whole way," said Espinosa. "You can see how game he was." Baffert assistant Jim Barnes did not indicated where Popular might turn up next.
On Wednesday's card at Gulfstream, Grey Beard came from off the pace to upset Monthir by a nose in a 1 1/16-mile allowance event. Grey Beard is by Unbridled's Song from the Danzig mare Danzig Darling. Edgar Prado rode for trainer Graham Motion. Earlier on the day's card, Stephentown -- a Wild Again colt trained by Anthony Reinstedler -- dominated another 1 1/16-mile allowance, winning by 5 lengths over Sledge. "This was his first time around two turns," said Reinstedler, "and I liked the way he won. It's time to move him up to stakes company. He'll run next in the (Feb. 16) Fountain of Youth."
The coming weekend is highlighted by the Grade II Santa Catalina Stakes at Santa Anita and the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park -- both run at 1 1/16 mile.
The Santa Catalina showcases Siphonic, winner of the Hollywood Futurity after a game third-place finish in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Siphonic, by Siphon, drilled 7 furlongs in 1:26 2/5 at Hollywood Park on Sunday. Trainer David Hofmans said he feels the pressure of training a Kentucky Derby prospect. "It's such a long journey," he said.
The Holy Bull will feature Iroquois Stakes winner Harlan's Holiday. The colt worked 5 furlongs Sunday at Gulfstream in 59 2/5 seconds and trainer Kenny McPeek said he is "coming into the Holy Bull just the way I want."
Other weekend 3-year-old stakes include the Miracle Wood at Laurel, the Cincinnati Trophy at Turfway Park, the Pasco at Tampa Bay Downs and a pair of events for state-breds: the Crescent City Derby at Fair Grounds and the Pepsi Cola Handicap at Sunland Park in New Mexico. The latter, surprisingly, is worth $100,000. Racing is looking up in the Land of Enchantment.
In other weekend racing:
Tout Charmant pulled her way to the front as the field moved down the backstretch in Sunday's $150,000 San Gorgonio Handicap, then drew off in the stretch to win by 2 lengths over Janet. Vencera was third and Dancingonice, the favorite, finished fourth after leading the way. "It wasn't like (Dancingonice) just backed up to her and we took over," said winning rider Chris McCarron. "My mare took off. But it was of no consequence." The victory was trainer Ron McAnally's 100th stakes win at Santa Anita. Tout Charmant, a 6-year-old by Slewvescent, is scheduled to be bred to Storm Cat. But McAnally said the victory might change that plan.
Macward caught pace-setting Echo Eddie in the late stages of Saturday's $100,000 Sensational Star Hancicap for state-breds down the hillside turf course, then went on to win by 1 ¾ lengths. Love That Lion was third. Macward, a 6-year-old son of Sharp Victor, got the 6 ½ furlongs in 1:12.40. Said winning rider Alex Solis: "At the five-sixteenths pole, I said it was time to go, he made his move and we got 'em at the line."
Zonk opened up 6 lengths of daylight at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Affectionately Handicap for fillies and mares, then held on to win by 1 length over People's Princess. Search Party was third. The favorite, Tugger, got off poorly and never recovered, finishing sixth. Winning rider C.C. Lopez said after Zonk got the big lead, "she started playing, looking and carrying on. I just said, 'Don't get beat now, Moma?'"
Historie Sainte dealt with some traffic on the backstretch and then just got up in the stretch run to win Sunday's $75,000 Sixty Sails Handicap for fillies and mares by a neck. Tabianka was second and Lady of Peace was third in the "about" 1 1/16 mile grass event. Winning rider Donnie Meche said Historie Sainte "seemed to be in between horses" on the backstretch. "That forced her in a bit more than I like but she was definitely within herself. When asked, she ran great," he said. Next stop, said trainer Steve Asmussen, is the $150,000 Bayou Breeders' Cup Handicap on March 2.
Another senior citizen, 6-year-old Bonapaw, won Saturday's $75,000 Colonel Power Stakes. Bonapaw, with Gerard Melancon at the controls, let Abajo set the pace before taking command in the stretch run. He finished the 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:09 1/5. "He made a statement today," said part-owner Dennis Richard. Richard said Bonapaw will get a short break and come back in the Taylor's Special Handicap on Feb. 24.
Hook and Ladder got things off on a bright note for this year's sprint battles with a convincing, 3 ¼-length victory in Sunday's $100,000 Mr. Prospector Handicap. The 5-year-old son of Dixieland Band raced behind Kipperscope through a quarter in 21.99 and a half in 44.71, then took over in the stretch. The final time for 6 furlongs on a fast track was 1:09.69. "I had no problems whatsoever," said winning rider John Velazquez. "He broke sharp. I had good position all the way. When I asked him to run, he responded. So I couldn't ask for a better trip." Added trainer John Kimmel: "He can run very fast when he's right and he's right now. He's a happy horse and is awfully good." Look for Hook and Ladder in the Deputy Minister Handicap on Feb. 10 and the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Sprint on March 9.
On Friday, De Bertie wore down the leaders in the lane to win the $65,000 Escena Stakes by ½ length. Sara's Success was second and Lily's Affair third. De Bertie, a 5-year-old De Niro mare, got the 1 1/16 mile on the main track in 1:45.60. Trainer Steve Flint said the $100,000 Sabin Handicap on Feb. 8 may be next.
Keepondealing kept on running in Saturday's $50,000 Wishing Well Stakes for fillies and mares and was rewarded with a 1 ½-length victory. Soul Onarazorsedge was second after leading briefly. Platinum Streak was third. Keepondealing, a 4-year-old Friendly Lover filly, ran 6 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:11.92.
Tampa Bay Downs
Rebecca's Charm survived a wide trip through the early stages of Saturday's $50,000 Sandpiper Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then beat back a late bid by Expected Roll to win by 1 ¾ lengths. Forum Search was third. T he 6 furlongs took 1:11.42. Trainer Robert Hale said jockey Aurelio Toribio Jr. "has won four out of her last four on her. Even though today she had to race wide, he has done a great job."
Outstanding Info sat behind a blistering early pace in Saturday's $50,000 What A Summer Stakes for fillies and mares, then came along in the stretch run to pick up the pieces, winning by a nose over Bedside Manour. Prized Stamp was third and Madame Roar -- who ran the first quarter in 21 4/5 seconds -- finished fourth. "I could see they were getting away from me quickly," said winning jockey Jose Caraballo, "and I knew that I had to sit behind them and make my move."
Sam Houston Race Park
Devout Sinner picked up her fourth straight stakes victory in Saturday night's $50,000 Sam Houston Distaff. The Oklahoma-bred 4-year-old raced from off the pace, surged to a substantial lead in the stretch and held off Slapstick for the win. Owner/trainer V. Joan Charlton said Devout Sinner is headed for Oaklawn Park.
Kendrick Peak went right out to the lead in Saturday's $30,000 Sun Devil Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and extended the advantage all the way to a 3 ¾-length victory. Calce Clunes was second and Bella Cash third. Kendrick Peak, a daughter of Benton Creek, ran 1 mile in 1:37.33.
News and Notes
Point Given is the unanimous choice as winner of the 2001 Eclipse Award as best 3-year-old colt or gelding. The other winners will be announced Feb. 18, long after attention has turned to this year's campaign. Horse of the Year finalists are Point Given, Tiznow and Johannesburg. Xtra Heat made the finals in both the 3-year-old filly and Sprinter categories.