By Jon White
Starrer is doing an excellent job of winning as many races as she can before 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri gets back into action. The 5-year-old Dynaformer mare bred in Kentucky by Wind Hill Farm, owned by George Krikorian, came from just off the pace to prevail by two lengths in the $300,000 Santa Margarita Handicap (gr. I) on March 9. It was her third consecutive victory in a graded stakes race. Krikorian and trainer John Shirreffs certainly are hoping the Starrer of 2003 will fare better against Azeri than the Starrer of 2002. Starrer and Azeri met three times in 2002, with Azeri winning all three. But it should be pointed out that Starrer didn't disgrace herself in those three races, finishing in a dead heat for third in the Vanity Handicap (gr. I) in June, second in the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) in October, and fourth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) in October. Since the Breeders' Cup, however, Starrer is three-for-three, while Azeri has yet to start. So if the Starrer of 2003 is better than last year's model, perhaps she will be able to seriously test Azeri the next time they meet. As for Azeri, she could not be coming along any better at San Luis Rey Downs, according to trainer Laura de Seroux. De Seroux, at Santa Anita the morning of the Santa Margarita to work Canadian International (Can-IT) winner Ballingarry on the turf in preparation for his 2003 debut, did not hesitate in using the world "fabulously" when asked how Azeri's training is going. That is not good news for any of her future opponents. In the meantime, Krikorian and Shirreffs are content to savor Starrer's current winning streak, which also includes victories in the Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II) and Santa Maria Handicap (gr. I). "When you put them back-to-back-to-back like this, it takes a really good mare," Shirreffs said. "It shows she's something special." Ridden by Pat Valenzuela and carrying top weight of 121 pounds, Starrer completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.20. Sightseek (116 pounds) held on to finish second, with Bella Bellucci (116) three lengths back in third. Got Koko (120), coming off a sweep of the La Canada Series for 4-year-old fillies, finished fourth. Grade I winner Affluent was withdrawn because of a fever, according to trainer Ron McAnally. Favorite StoryThe odds-on favorite won the $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) on March 8. So what's new? Bob and Beverly Lewis' Composure, coming off a victory in the Las Virgenes Stakes (gr. I), won the Santa Anita Oaks at 2-5. Nine of the past 10 Las Virgenes winners have gone on to take the Santa Anita Oaks as odds-on favorites. On Feb. 9, Composure won the Las Virgenes by a neck over Elloluv despite stumbling at the start. In the Santa Anita Oaks, Composure left the gate in good order and sat just off a moderate pace set by Elloluv, the 8-5 second choice in the five-horse field. Elloluv and Composure battled it out all the way down the stretch. It wasn't easy, but Composure got the job done by three-quarters of a length while completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.34. Go for Glamour finished 4 1/2 lengths back in third. Jerry Bailey rode the winner for trainer Bob Baffert. Elloluv won the Hollywood Starlet (gr. I) by four lengths over Composure in December, but Composure has defeated Elloluv in their two subsequent encounters. Composure, a daughter of Touch Gold bred in Kentucky by Rancho San Peasea, has been talked about as a possibility for the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) by Baffert. A filly did carry the Lewises' green and yellow silks in the 1995 Run for the Roses when the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Serena's Song finished 16th. Serena's Song, like Composure, won both the Las Virgenes Stakes and Santa Anita Oaks. Quick KelaA jubilant Larry Barrera appeared in the winner's circle following a triumph by Aaron and Marie Jones' Kela in the $80,650 Tokyo City Handicap on the same card as the Santa Anita Oaks. Barrera, son of the late Hall of Fame horseman Laz Barrera, resumed his training career toward the end of 2002 after an absence of approximately a decade. Barrera spent some of that time battling substance abuse problems and has credited the Joneses for providing invaluable support in getting his life back on track. Barrera had shipped Kela to Laurel for the $200,000 General George Handicap (gr. II) on Feb. 17. However, the General George was postponed because of a blizzard. When Kela missed some training in Maryland, the trainer decided to skip the race and send the horse back to California. My Cousin Matt won the rescheduled General George on Feb. 22. "It basically was a cross-country trip for nothing," Barrera said. "Yet they (the Joneses) didn't even flinch. That's what kind of people they are." Kela was sent off at 6-1 in the Tokyo City. With Matt Garcia up, the 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Numerous stepped 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.75 to prevail by three-quarters of a length while registering his first stakes victory. Barrera mentioned the $250,000 Longacres Mile (gr. III) at Emerald Downs on Aug. 24 and the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Santa Anita on Oct. 25 as potential long-range goals for Kela. Meanwhile, Santa Anita's $150,000 San Bernardino Handicap (gr. III) at 1 1/8 miles on April 5 is a logical possibility for the horse's next start. Barrera's first win as a trainer came as an 18-year-old at Santa Anita in 1978 with Rich Cream. His father, who died in 1991, was the last person to train a Triple Crown winner, accomplishing the feat with Affirmed in 1978. Laz Barrera no doubt would be proud of what Larry has accomplished recently, both professionally and personally.
Mojave on the MoveEighty-year-old trainer Leonard Dorfman is excited about McCann's Mojave, a 3-year-old California-bred son of Memo. Owned and bred by the partnership of Emerald Meadows Farm manager Nikki Hunt and television/radio broadcaster Mike Willman, McCann's Mojave won at first asking Dec. 29, then remained undefeated by beating state-bred allowance foes in a March 5 sprint. He settled off the early pace, closed powerfully, and won by three lengths while covering six furlongs in 1:09.04. "As soon as we got serious with him, he showed us he's a good colt," Dorfman said. "We should have a lot of fun with him if we can keep him sound. He's 16 hands--I measured him--and he's longer than a week." Dorfman also trained the dam, the stakes-winning Joni U. Bar, who had tremendous heart, as evidenced by the fact she won 16 races from 37 starts without ever finishing second. Dorfman has been active in racing for some 66 years. Known around the track for being one of Seabiscuit's biggest fans long before Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling book, Dorfman said he thinks McCann's Mojave could be the best horse he has ever trained. That is saying a lot, considering Dorfman pulled off a big upset with little Travel Orb in the 1966 Californian at Hollywood Park. Travel Orb paid $54.20 after defeating 13 opponents, including the mighty Native Diver. In a Seabiscuit-like story, Travel Orb, who weighed less than 900 pounds, became a major stakes winner for Dorfman after being raised in a backyard in Orillia, Wash. In addition to Travel Orb and Joni U. Bar, Dorfman has trained stakes winners Minnesota Chief, Against the Snow, Noholme Atoll, Titular II, and Biggs. One gets the feeling it is only a matter of time before Dorfman also wins a stakes race with McCann's Mojave. (Chart, Equibase)