The major local prep for the Santa Anita Derby is the Grade 2 San Rafael Stakes, a $200,000 event at a mile on the main track. As expected, Lion Heart was sent off as the even-money favorite despite the fact that he is making his three-year-old debut and has not raced since late December.
Lion Heart and 21-1 shot Hosco battled for the lead during the early stages through a quick pace of 22.67, 45.71, and 1:10.10. This set the race up perfectly for the closers. 7-1 shot Imperialism, who was unhurried at the back of the pack early, came out five wide on the turn to circle the field and rallied down the lane strongly to catch the favorite at the line in final time of 1:36.11. It was 4 1/2 lengths back to 44-1 shot Consecrate in third, who also closed well during the stretch drive but was left with too much to do. Results Chart
Winning jockey Victor Espinoza said, "We were pretty far back. I could feel the dirt hitting me and my horse's head. But when that happens I know I'll have plenty left for the end. There were quite a few speed (horses) in there and it set up perfect for me. I know the track is fast but at this point it doesn't matter because my horse he runs the way he runs, and he got really, really strong kicking it in."
Wining trainer Kristin Mulhall said, "He's matured a lot. He's gone to the track every day with that blinker and he's used to it. He's started going in a much straighter path. He's grown up a lot; he's filled out a lot. Victor (Espinoza) basically knows what to do. He knows the horse. He just has to make that one big run." Mulhall added that Imperialism will start next in the Santa Anita Derby on April 3.
Patrick Biancone, trainer of second place finisher and beaten favorite Lion Heart, said "I think he'll benefit from this. He ran a good race. The winner is certainly a good horse, too. I'm happy. It's the first step. I'm proud of him. He fought well at the end and this is the first time he was in a real race." He will also go in the Santa Anita Derby next time out.
Mike Smith, aboard Lion Heart said, "He wanted to run too much. He was too fresh. And it showed today. You've just got to hope that he'll relax from the experience and run a little better next time."
<a name=laderby>The last of the preps</a> this weekend was the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds. Eleven went to post in this $600,000 event over 1 1/16 miles. The lukewarm 5-2 favorite was the two-horse entry of Breakaway and Gradepoint from the powerful Will Farish stable trained by Neil Howard.
17-1 shot Indian War Dance led the field early on, getting a half in 45.27 and 3/4 in 1:10.65 as 3-1 second choice Fire Slam stayed with him. Favorite Breakaway stayed at the back of the pack while Gradepoint settled in ninth. Turning for home, 6-1 shot Pollard's Vision made his bid for the lead and got it early in the stretch drive. However, the race set up well for the closers. 7-1 shot Wimbledon, back in eighth in the early stages, came out four wide on the last turn and rallied strongly, passing Pollard's Vision inside the 1/8 pole to win going away by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:42.71 over a fast track, just 0.11 seconds off the stakes record. 5-1 chance Borrego, who was in tenth over the first half mile, also closed well, going eight wide on the turn and just got up for second by a head over Pollard's Vision in third. It was another 3/4 length back to co-favorite Breakaway, while entrymate Gradepoint lacked a late rally and finished eighth. Results Chart
Winning trainer Bob Baffert said, "He has such a big, long stride. He's such a big horse that he was just getting into gear at the end. When he found room turning for home, I knew we were going to find out what he's made of. I always thought that he was a very good horse. Hes been a little disappointing at times. He should have broken his maiden a few races back, but I think his last race proved that he was finally getting it together. This horse looks like hes the real deal as long as we keep him healthy, and well have some fun with him." Baffert said Wimbledon will go next in either the Santa Anita Derby or the Wood Memorial.
Winning owner James McIngvale said, "I was nervous all day. This is the biggest horse race I have ever won, and the biggest payday, so it reaffirms what Im doing, which is putting all my trust in Bob Baffert. He got me to the dance. I knew he was a great horse, and he was with a great horse trainer."
Robby Albarado, aboard beaten favorite Gradepoint, said "He was flat turning for home. He just didn't have his game today."