Sunday’s $201,725 Charles Whittingham (G2) at Santa Anita looked a lot more competitive on paper than the market suggested, and so it proved as 11-1 Si Sage sprang the front-running upset over 32-1 Patentar with the 20-1 Montego Bay in third.
Bal a Bali, the 7-5 favorite, did himself no favors when far too lit up early. Unexpectedly vying with presumptive pacesetter A Red Tie Day leaving the gate, the Brazilian import didn’t handle the dirt crossover as they swung off the hill and onto the turf course proper. Bal a Bali jinked wide, inconveniencing Si Sage and pushing him farther out.
That prompted Hall of Famer Mike Smith to turn Si Sage loose in earnest, and he took charge passing the wire the first time. Despite the quick pace of :23.15, :47.02 and 1:11.23, Si Sage was traveling comfortably, while Bal a Bali still looked too keen for his own good. A Red Tie Day thus turned out not to be the controlling speed after all, and there went his best shot.
Si Sage spurted away from Bal a Bali at the top of the stretch, and the closers couldn’t get close enough to threaten the 2 1/2-length winner. Completing 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.48, Si Sage rewarded his backers with a $25 win mutuel.
Patentar gained ground steadily on the outside, and Montego Bay made headway on the rail, with the former outkicking the latter by a half-length for second. Since Patentar was resuming from a three-month layoff, and trying this trip for the first time, the $371,217 son of Teofilo can progress further for Simon Callaghan.
The $1 exotics were worth $238.50 (exacta), $3,812.70 (trifecta) and $21,343.30 superfecta (7-2-4-5) with Bal a Bali weakening to fourth.
The second choice in the wagering, 4-1 Finnegans Wake, got going too late but finished strongly in fifth. This marked only his second start back from a lengthy holiday, so the 7-year-old Finnegans Wake is eligible to show more next time.
Si Sage was peaking in this third start off a nearly year-long absence. After notching his first stakes victory in the 2015 Last Tycoon (G3) – also over 1 1/4 miles at Santa Anita, the French-bred headed to the sidelines. He blew up to eighth in his comeback in the April 9 Thunder Road (G3), his finale for the retiring Darrell Vienna, and joined Jim Cassidy, for whom he finished fourth in the off-the-turf American (G3) May 6.
In both, Si Sage led before tiring – an uncharacteristic tactic since his arrival on this circuit in the summer of 2013. But during the French phase of his career, the son of Sageburg had been a front runner.
Perhaps that’s the key to him. Cassidy intimated as much by his instructions to Smith to go forward, although he imagined the pace would be a lot steadier.
Owned by Jed Cohen’s Red Baron’s Barn, Rancho Temescal and Vayaconsuerte, Si Sage advanced his scorecard to 26-5-6-2, $381,839.
Quotes courtesy of Santa Anita
Winning trainer Jim Cassidy: “I thought it was a pretty fast dog (with regard to him telling Smith to ‘walk the dog’ on the front end before the race) as I watched. In between being on the outside and going down the hill, that :47 half made me think we might be in trouble.
“If he didn’t impress anybody today, shame on them. He certainly impressed me.
“I don’t think there’s any problem with him, no matter the distance. He’s just a very honest horse. Darrell (Vienna) told me when he retired that this is a very nice horse and he couldn’t have been more right.
“Without being a jerk, it brings tears to your eyes to win a race named after such a great man, Charlie Whittingham. It brought a tear to my eye.”
Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith: “Well Jim told me he was going to run a big race today. ‘He hasn’t had a big effort in a while but he’s going to give you one today.’
“He got carried out a little bit when we were crossing the dirt and we went a bit quicker than I wanted to go but in doing so he was well within himself, was comfortable, very relaxed and sometimes you’ve just got to let a fast horse be fast.”
Co-owner Jed Cohen of Red Baron’s Barn: “I couldn’t believe the morning line today (15-1). He won a race here last year at the same distance and I thought he beat a better group of horses than he was facing today…It’s nice to have a nice horse and for him to be able to show it.”
Photo courtesy of Benoit/Santa Anita via Twitter.