Forever Darling, San Onofre earn initial stakes wins in Santa Anita sprints
The Santa Ynez was the first of two 6 1/2-furlong graded sprints that shared Saturday’s card at Santa Anita with the grassy, 1 1/8-mile San Gabriel S. (G2). The other sprint, the $100,250 Midnight Lute S. (G3), saw San Onofre earn his first stakes credit as well when scoring by a half-length.
First, though, Forever Darling took center stage in the Santa Ynez after pressing Pretty N Cool throughout the Road to the Kentucky Oaks contest. Jockey Rafael Bejarano kept Forever Darling latched onto the leader’s outside through splits of :22.48, :45.57 and 1:09.84.
Those two retained those positions heading into the stretch, as did Code Warrior in third and My Dynamo on the rail in fourth. For a brief second, Pretty N Cool looked to take the field all the way to the wire, but Forever Darling accelerated past her rival to finish in 1:16.25 over the fast main track for trainer and co-owner Richard Baltas.
The Congrats chestnut filly, who is also campaigned by Hebert Bloodstock and J K Racing LLC, earned her first stakes win in this spot as well as 10 points toward a starting berth in the May 6 Kentucky Oaks (G1) under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs.
Forever Darling improved her record to 4-2-0-0, including a September 26 maiden win over the track and an eighth-place run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Keeneland last out on October 31. She’s now banked $155,400 in lifetime earnings.
Later on Santa Anita’s Saturday program, Matson Racing’s San Onofre added a first stakes win to his resume when taking the Midnight Lute with Alex Solis holding the reins.
The Karen Headley-trained six-year-old tracked in second as Distinctiv Passion led through a half-mile in :21.72 and :44. San Onofre made his move in the stretch and grabbed control, inching away before holding by a half-length from a rallying Salutos Amigos to stop the clock in 1:14.82.
San Onofre has been close in three of his last four tries against stakes rivals, and finally got the job done here to return $10 as the 4-1 fourth choice in the six-horse field. Salutos Amigos, the 9-5 favorite, took second by 1 3/4 lengths over Pulling G’s, who in turn was best of the rest by 4 1/2 lengths. All Run just nosed out Raised a Secret for fourth while Distinctiv Passion faded to last.
San Onofre is now 10-5-4-0, $333,040 in his career. The Surf Cat gelding captured his initial four starts before catching a case of seconditis when trying stakes company. He was close in the California Cup Sprint, Kona Gold S. (G2) and Los Angeles S. (G3), then suffered his first non-top three placing when fourth in the Triple Bend S. (G1) in June.
That latter race was San Onofre’s most recent effort and he finally got back to his winning ways on Saturday after a long break.
Forever Darling and San Onofre photos courtesy of Benoit Photos
SANTA YNEZ QUOTES
Rafael Bejarano, jockey Forever Darling, winner: “I had a good position from the beginning. I knew that one of Baffert’s horses would try to go straight to the lead so I just tried to figure out which one. I saw Martin (Garcia) go with Pretty N Cool and I knew she was the horse to beat, so I put us in right behind them and went from there. I knew pressure was coming by the three-eighths pole and I just tried to keep going.
“I don’t think she wants to go two turns yet. I think she would like six, six and a half, seven, but the Breeders’ Cup was too tough for her. I thought she was so much better today, running six-and-a-half.”
Richard Baltas, trainer and co-owner Forever Darling, winner: “We thought she displaced in the Breeders’ Cup and we found she had an ulcer on her soft palate when we did surgery on her. This race didn’t come up as tough as I thought for a Grade 2, but I’m so grateful to win, because I own a share of her.
“He (Bejarano) had to ride her hard, but she just fought it out. She has a lot of determination and you can’t teach that to a horse. I’m just glad that I own a piece of her and I train her. It’s just a great day for me.”
Manny Badilla, trainer Code Warrior, second: “She ran huge. We’re going to hit the (California) Oaks next at Golden Gate (Fields on February 6). It’s a mile and a sixteenth and it’s our last shot with those fillies up there. We’ll be back down here again soon, no doubt.”
MIDNIGHT LUTE QUOTES
Alex Solis, jockey San Onofre, winner: “He’s been training really, really good. He’s a different horse these last six months, he’s a different horse in the mornings, you can see it. He’s stronger and happier and he showed it today.
“Karen and Bruce and myself, we’ll all sit down and discuss what’s best for him and go from there.”
Karen Headley, trainer San Onofre, winner: “I’m very, very pleased. The strategy worked out perfect, finally. His last two sprints he had gone against monsters, not that this was a soft field, but there was no Masochistic in here.
“He’ll probably come back in the California-bred stake ($150,000 California Cup Sprint going six furlongs on January 30).”
Bruce Headley, breeder San Onofre, winner: “Really good way to start the New Year; my daughter did a helluva job.
“I wasn’t overly confident today, because these are all real nice horses and great trainers. I knew it’d be tough. I’m more excited for Alex than I am myself. Alex has a lot left in him, which he showed today. Me, I’m on borrowed time.
“Karen did a great job, I had nothing to do with it. I mean, I bred him but…”
Bruce Headley explains his wife’s nom de course, Matson Racing: “Aase’s father shipped ammunition for three different wars using Matson Shipping Company. They shipped during the Korean War, World War II and Vietnam. The morning of Pearl Harbor, he was actually there in the harbor but they received a warning so he decided to ship out before the bombings began.”