With the richer Sunshine Millions Sprint the preceding day, Santa Anita's $150,000 Palos Verdes Handicap (gr. II) Jan. 25 will have a weak field, giving several of the eight entrants an important graded stakes opportunity.
Three of the Palos Verdes candidates — Big Bad Leroybrown, Devoted Magic and Machismo — are also among 11 entered in the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint, which would further weaken the graded event if any of them are withdrawn. Both races are contested at six furlongs.
Two other possibilities from the 15 horses nominated for the Palos Verdes were not entered. Trainer David Hofmans decided to keep Desert Code, winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at odds of 36-1, on the grass. And Cost of Freedom, the John Sadler-trained Ancient Title (gr. I) winner, is currently sidelined.
So the up-and-down Johnny Eves, winner of the Malibu (gr. I) in 2007 and a lifetime earner of $491,120 for Mooncoin, brings the strongest credentials to the Palos Verdes.
Trainer Jay Robbins is passing the Sunshine Millions with his California-bred son of Skimming while hoping that the 5-year-old gelding can rebound from an eased effort as the 17-10 choice in the El Conejo Handicap (gr. III) Jan. 1. In that race, Johnny Eves gradually backed out after tangling with Machismo in a sizzling :21.25 opening quarter mile. Jockey Garrett Gomez did not persevere with the six-time winner through the lane.
Gomez retains the mount on Johnny Eves, who totes top weight of 118 pounds in the Palos Verdes. The two teamed to win the Vernon O. Underwood (gr. III) at Hollywood Park Nov. 22.
The other graded stakes winner in the field is Charles Cono's Principle Secret. Now 5, the Kentucky-bred son of Sea of Secrets began his career with great promise for trainer Christopher Paasch, winning his first two starts at Del Mar in 2006, including the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II). But through several long breaks in his racing line, Principle Secret lost 11 in a row until his last start. That victory came in a six-furlong allowance race at Hollywood Park Dec. 21 against four rivals following a layoff of nearly seven months.
Joel Rosario retains the mount. The dark bay owns a 3-4-1 record in 14 starts with earnings of $265,080.
Jeffrey Sengara's Talkin to Mom Roo, a 6-year-old Texas-bred gelding, makes his stakes debut for trainer Ted H. West. The son of You and I most recently ran second to the well-regarded Gayego in a conditioned allowance race at Hollywood Park Nov. 30.
“It’s a big step up, but he was second last time to a horse that ran a fifth off the world record (1:13.37 for 6 1/2 furlongs),” West noted. “I think he’s talented enough to handle the jump up.”
Claimed for $40,000 from a runner-up finish at Santa Anita last March, Talkin to Mom Roo has had a win and two seconds in three starts since.
Zayat Stables' Halo Najib, on the Triple Crown trail last spring until a seventh-place finish in Keeneland's Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I), is now in the barn of Mike Mitchell. The Halo's Image colt will be making his first appearance since an off-the-board finish in the Majestic Light Stakes on the Saratoga turf Aug. 1. Rafael Bejarano gets aboard for the first time.
Machismo, trained by Sadler, ran a sharp second in the four-horse El Conejo, one length behind In Summation, who is one of the favorites for the Sunshine Millions Sprint. Sadler also entered Six Pack Abs, an allowance winner at Oak Tree last fall who finished sixth of seven in the Underwood in his last try.
Big Bad Leroybrown finished fifth in Santa Anita's Impressive Luck Handicap Dec. 29 following an 11-month layoff. The other horse cross-entered in the Sprint, Devoted Magic, captured a first-level allowance heat at Santa Anita by nearly seven lengths for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer Jan. 7.
$150,000 Palos Verdes Handicap (gr. II, Race 3, 1:31 p.m.), 4 & Up, 6 Furlongs (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Principle Secret (KY), 113, Joel Rosario
2. Machismo (FL), 115, Mike E. Smith
3. Big Bad Leroybrown (CA), 113, Martin Garcia
4. Johnny Eves (CA), 118, Garrett K. Gomez
5. Six Pack Abs (KY), 113, Tyler Baze
6. Talkin to Mom Roo (TX), 114, Clinton L. Potts
7. Devoted Magic (CA), 113, Joseph Talamo
8. Halo Najib (FL), 114, Rafael Bejarano