Friendly Island makes his Santa Anita debut Saturday in his first start since finishing second in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I), heading a small field of four in the $150,000 Palos Verdes Handicap (gr. II) at six furlongs.
Garrett Gomez, the nation’s leading jockey in money earned last year, will be aboard the 6-year-old New York-bred who was dismissed at odds of 58-1 when he ran second by four lengths to victorious Thor’s Echo in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup event at Churchill Downs Nov. 4.
The chestnut son of Crafty Friend, who has earned $879,714 for Anstu Stables Inc., from seven wins in 17 starts, drew the outside post in the compact field. Friendly Island is the co-high weight at 118 pounds with Harvard Avenue, whom Gomez rode to a thrilling win in the El Canejo Handicap (gr. III) on New Year's Day.
Although ridden by Ramon Dominguez in the Breeders’ Cup, Gomez is familiar with Friendly Island, now being trained by Mike McCarthy, who assumed stable duties while Todd Pletcher serves a lengthy suspension. Gomez rode Friendly Island to victory in the Maryland Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. II) last March at Pimlico and the pair was third in Saratoga’s Forego (gr. I) in September.
Victor Espinoza takes over on Harvard Avenue, winner of the 5 1/2-furlong El Conejo by a nose over Areyoutalkintome thanks to a brilliantly timed late charge under Gomez. The 6-year-old gelding is trained by Doug O’Neill for Emerald Downs president Ron Crockett. Harvard Avenue has posted a record of 5-5-4 in 22 career starts for earnings of $475,126. Espinoza rode Areyoutalkintome, who is awaiting the Sunshine Millions Sprint, in the 'Conejo.
“The extra half-furlong shouldn’t make much difference,” said Espinoza. “This horse can go any distance, although six furlongs will probably be better. He won going seven-eighths when I rode him (in an allowance victory at Hollywood Park last Nov. 15). He’s come back really strong from a layoff. Every race, he’s running better and better.”
Harvard Avenue was sidelined from Aug. 21, 2005 until Nov. 1, 2006.
With a short field, the 34-year-old Espinoza says strategy hinges on the break.
“It depends on what happens after the start,” he said. “But either way, I don’t think it will be a problem for him. If they go fast, he can lay off the pace. If they go slow, he’ll be closer.”
$150,000 Palos Verdes Handicap (gr. II, Race 3, 1:30 p.m.), 4 & Up, 6 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Limited Creole (CA), 111, Michael C. Baze
2. Harvard Avenue (KY), 118, Victor Espinoza
3. To Sender (GB), 113, David R. Flores
4. Friendly Island (NY), 118, Garrett K. Gomez