Edited press releases from Santa Anita

With the red and white colors of California’s legendary Old English Rancho flying proudly, What a View assumed command turning for home and took Saturday’s $250,000 California Cup Turf Classic, presented by City National Bank, by an impressive 3 1/4 lengths under Kent Desormeaux. Trained by former rider Kenny Black, the 5-year-old California-bred gelding by Vronsky got a mile and one eighth on Santa Anita’s turf in 1:47.39.

A restrained second to pacesetter Image of Joplin into and around the far turn, What a View made the lead well within himself a quarter mile from home and was clearly best among a field of 12 older horses bred or sired in the Golden State.

“Kent knows what’s he’s doing, he’s won a few more of these than I have,” said Black, who registered his biggest win as a conditioner in the Classic. “He knows this horse. I always thought he was better when he (What a View) has one to run at.”

Hammered in the late betting, What a View was off at 4-1 and paid $10.20, $4.60 and $4.00.

“I had a firm hold,” said Desormeaux. “I was surprised to see him accelerate again at the quarter pole. Kenny told me in the paddock that it’s not hot air, he’s never had a horse doing doing so well. He’s had some issues, but the issues are no longer and he sure ran like it.

“I was surprised. They’re not supposed to have anything left when they pull like that.”

Out of the Manila mare Oceans N Mountains, What a View was bred by Old English Rancho, Patsy and Sal Berumen and is owned by Patsy and Sal Berumen, Robert Riggio and the Elwood Johnston Trust. In getting his first stakes win, What a View notched his fourth career win from 10 starts and with the winner’s share of $137,500, increased his earnings to $294,148.

“I grew up with this,” said an emotional Mary Johnston Hilvers, whose father, Elwood “Buddy” Johnston of Old English Rancho, passed away last year. “Obviously, when we lost dad so unexpectedly and suddenly, there were questions on whether we’d be able to keep it going. My son, Johnny, has done such a fabulous job. It’s a family thing. My husband, my daughter…We really want to carry on my dad’s legacy and my grandmother’s.

“We’ve got a lot of good, young horses coming up. I’m excited for my mom (Judy Johnston). I wish I would have made her come with me today.”

Favored Alert Bay bobbled at the break, saved ground into the far turn and proved second best, finishing 1 1/4 lengths in front of Boozer. Off at 2-1 with Martin Garcia up, Alert Bay paid $4.20 and $3.00.

Ridden by Gary Stevens, Boozer, who showed good speed from his number 11 post position, was rank into the first turn and proved game for third money, finishing a half-length in front of Poshky. Boozer was off at 10-1 and paid $5.60 to show.

Fractions on the race were 23.32, 46.70, 1:10.39 and 1:35.06.

***

Sunday Rules, scratched out of last Saturday’s Santa Monica (G2), took on the boys for the first time in her nine-race career and responded with a rollicking 2 1/4-length win in the $150,000 Donald Valpredo California Cup Sprint.

Trained by Phil D’Amato, the Nick Alexander homebred 5-year-old mare by Tribal Rule was ridden by Edwin Maldonado and stopped the timer for six furlongs in a rapid 1:08.42.

“She’s a small filly, but she has such a long stride,” said Maldonado, who hadn’t ridden her since August of 2013 at Del Mar. “I just want to thank Phil and Nick Alexander for giving me the opportunity to get back on her…I was confident she could win this race.”

The second choice at 9-5 in a field of seven, Sunday Rules paid $5.80, $4.80 and $3.80. Out of the General Meeting mare Sunday Dress, she picked up her eighth career win and with the winner’s share of $90,000, increased her earnings to $534,840.

“We missed the Santa Monica because of a spider bite,” said Alexander. “Her hock blew up, but it was the spider that caused it…I know it’s (taking on males) not always something you should do and I was ready to take the blame for it, but it worked out.”

“As soon as (runner-up) Raised a Secret came to her, she spurted out a length or so and I thought she’d maintain it,” said D’Amato. “Edwin got her in a great rhythm and she maintained it all the way to the wire.”

Ridden by Santiago Gonzalez, Raised a Secret was off at 16-1 and paid $11.40 and $7.40

Solid Wager rallied from last around the far turn to finish third, 1 3/4 lengths behind Raised a Secret. Off at 15-1, Solid Wager paid $5.80 to show.

Fractions on the race, which were all set by the winner, were 21.61, 44.26 and 55.98.

***

Unbeaten Smokey Image, in his first try around two turns, annihilated six California-bred rivals en route to an 8 1/2-length win in the $250,000 California Cup Derby. Ridden for the first time by Victor Espinoza and trained for the first time Carla Gaines, the California-bred colt by Southern Image got a mile and a sixteenth in 1:43.49 and no doubt stamped himself a ticket to the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail in his next start.

Breaking from post position 2, Smokey Image easily out-footed Glory Bound to the first turn and set comfortable fractions of 23.49, 47.48 and 1:11.63.

“He reminds me of California Chrome!” said Espinoza. “I was expecting him to run a big race today. I worked him the other day and he worked unbelievably. I was very impressed. For me, I don’t look at it like Cal-bred or not. I just look at him and ask where he has potential…The way he ran today, he showed me that he can go the distance and he showed me that he can run with any horse, Cal-bred or not…Hopefully, I can get my next (fourth) Kentucky Derby.”

Off at 2-5, Smokey Image paid $2.80, $2.40 and $2.10.

“It looks like he did two turns well, right?” said Gaines, who took over training Smokey Image from Northern California-based Greg James following his most recent win at Del Mar on October 30. “My first impression was that he was just a very, very nice horse. You know what? Greg James and his assistant, Mary, did a tremendous job with this horse. Really, I just took over the reins.”

Owned by Betty Irvin’s Irvin Racing Stable, Smokey Image, who is out of the Free House mare Special Smoke, notched his perfect sixth win and picked up $137,500 for the win, increasing his earnings to $435,100.

“We’ll evaluate the calendar and see what he’s ready for, but certainly his performance today indicated we might have something more special,” said Irvin’s daughter, Diane Irvin, who serves as her racing manager. “After my dad passed (last year), I took over.”

Tough It Out, who was ridden by Santiago Gonzalez, rallied from last to be second, finishing 6 1/4 lengths in front of Xingontothebone. Off at 8-1, Tough It Out paid $5.40 and $3.80.

Xingontothebone, who was caught four wide going into the first turn, finished 1 3/4 lengths in front of Glory Bound. Ridden by Martin Pedroza, “Xing” paid $4.80 to show.

***

In her first-ever try on turf, heavily favored Pacific Heat responded with a resounding 5 ¼-length win in the $200,000 California Cup Oaks for 3-year-old fillies. Ridden by Flavien Prat and trained by Peter Eurton, the California-bred daughter of Unusual Heat got one mile in 1:35.75.

Attentive to the pace throughout, Pacific Heat took command going to the quarter pole and the Oaks was, for all intents and purposes, over.

“She was relaxed going down the backside,” said Prat. “But when a horse came up on her outside (Run Like the Boss, with Joe Talamo), she grabbed the bit and was a little bit aggressive after that. I think it was just because she is a ton of horse and she doesn’t know much yet. She’s pretty impressive.”

Off at 4-5 in a field of eight, she paid $3.80, $2.80 and $2.20.

“The way she was training, it (a dominating performance) wasn’t surprising,” said Eurton. “The biggest question to me was not the turf, but whether she could get two turns and there was no question about that today.”

Owned by Alesia, Burns and Ciaglia Racing, LLC, Pacific Heat got her third win from four starts and with the winner’s share of $110,000, increased her earnings to $250,250.

Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, Patriotic Diamond put in a good bid around the far turn, but was second best. Off at 4-1, she paid $3.60 and $2.40 while finishing 2 1/4 lengths in front of Eurton’s second entrant, Cheekaboo.

Ridden by Mario Gutierrez, Cheekaboo was off at 7-1 and paid $3.40 to show.

Fractions on the race were 22.48, 46.77, 1:11.13 and 1:22.28.

Pacific Heat was bred in California by Harris Farms and Donald Valpredo.

***

Harris Farms’ homebred Velvet Mesquite rallied four-wide at the top of the stretch to take the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf Sprint by 1 3/4 lengths under Desormeaux. Trained by Blake Heap, the 6-year-old mare by In Excess outran 10 other older fillies and mares and got 6 1/2 furlongs down Santa Anita’s hillside turf course in 1:13.14.

Although winless in seven starts last year, Velvet Mesquite, whose five career wins had all come over the hillside turf, was the 5-2 post time favorite and paid $7.80, $4.60 and $3.20. Saturday’s race was her 19th career start and with the winner’s share of $90,000, she increased her earnings to $433,446.

A close third while under restraint past the half mile pole, Velvet Mesquite took charge a furlong out and was clearly best.

“She just strutted her stuff today,” said Desormeaux. “I was so confident after only 50 yards…This is the first time going to the gate where she didn’t turn a hair…I think if she goes to the gate like she did today, there’s nothing she can’t do.”

Harris, one of California’s leading breeders for more than three decades, was understandably elated.

“She showed a lot of promise every year, but as a mare gets older, you’re not sure if they can maintain their form,” he said. “So now, our big quandary is to breed her or keep her running. But today, she made a pretty good case for staying in training.”

Heap, who came to national prominence in the mid 1980’s with top California-bred sprinter

Zany Tactics, was pleased to see his mare bounce back from a seventh place run over the course in the Monrovia S. (G2) here on January 3.

“Her last race was a tough one,” he said. “She got the (early) lead and that’s really not what we wanted. Today, everything went perfect. She wants to be just off the pace and everything went right today.”

Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Qiaona finished strongly to be second, a neck in front of Heavens Stairway. Off at 8-1, she paid $7.60 and $4.60.

Heavens Stairway, who led the way to the furlong pole, was ridden by Joe Talamo and paid $5.60 to show.

Fractions on the race were 21.69, 43.71 and 1:06.85.

Photos courtesy of Benoit/Santa Anita.