The 1 1/16-mile Cushion Track test, an important prep race for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 1, drew an evenly matched field of seven older horses. Molengao was assigned top weight of 120 pounds.
Molengao's five lifetime victories include wins last year in the San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita in February and the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) by 4 1/2 lengths at Hollywood Park May 5. He was off for seven weeks before running fourth, five lengths behind Lava Man, while backed at odds of 8-5 in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) June 30. That was his last start.
“I think he was a little burned out in the Gold Cup, but that’s just my opinion,” said Victor Espinoza, the regular rider for Molengao. “He didn’t even try in the Gold Cup. He was not on his game. I think that’s why Lobo decided to give him some time off. I spoke to him and he said the horse has been working very well, and I saw him on the track and he looks great.”
The 7-year-old Molengao ran second to Lava Man in the 2007 Big 'Cap. The son of Royal Academy has earnings of $618,477 for T N T Stud of Rio de Janeiro.
WinStar Farms' homebred Well Armed, coming into top form for trainer Eoin Harty, figures to get quite a bit of attention in the San Pasqual, his U.S. stakes debut. The 5-year-old gelded son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Tiznow is coming off a front-running 4 1/4-length allowance win over Hollywood Park's Cushion Track Nov. 11. Harty was set to run the bay in the Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) over the same strip Dec. 8, but decided not to enter when Well Armed got sick a couple of days before the race.
Harty thinks Well Armed is ready now after winning three of 13 lifetime starts on three continents. Well Armed broke his maiden on the all-weather track at England's Linfield as a 2-year-old. He went to the sidelines with an injury that kept him out of action for 18 months following an 11th-place finish in the UAE Derby (UAE-II) at Nad Al Sheba in March 2006. That was his last start for English conditioner Clive Brittain.
Well Armed, assigned 113 pounds, should dictate the pace.
“He’s a very happy horse right now and I’m looking for him to run a big race," said jockey Aaron Gryder. "I’m not worried about how tough the race is. If you’ve got a good horse, he finds a way.”
Heatseeker and Racketeer, one-two finishers in the Native Diver, return in the San Pasqual. The Irish-bred Heatseeker, a 5-year-old son of Giant's Causeway owned by William de Burgh, won the Native Diver by 1 1/4 lengths at odds of 30-1 for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Stronach Stables' Racketeer, a 5-year-old horse by Awesome Again , seeks his first stakes win for trainer Bobby Frankel. Racketeer is one of three horses trained by Frankel entered in the San Pasqual.
The Hall of Fame trainer starts Thousand Words, a British homebred for leading client Juddmonte Farms making his initial U.S. start. The 4-year-old son of Dansili--Verbose, by Storm Bird, won a group III event as a juvenile in England, but was winless in six starts in 2007.
Frankel also has Gary Tanaka's French-bred Hello Sunday, seventh in the Native Diver. Hello Sunday finished third in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) this summer but has just one allowance win in eight U.S. starts over the past year.
Zappa, a one-length allowance winner at Hollywood Park Dec. 14 for trainer John Sadler, should challenge Well Armed on the front end.
$150,000 San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II, Race 9, 4:07 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Zappa (KY), 114, Joel Rosario
2. Well Armed (KY), 113, Aaron T. Gryder
3. Hello Sunday (FR), 114, David R. Flores
4. Heatseeker (IRE), 117, Michael C. Baze
5. Racketeer (KY), 114, Rafael Bejarano
6. Molengao (BRZ), 120, Victor Espinoza
7. Thousand Words (GB), 114, Julien R. Leparoux