Bright Thought, making his graded stakes debut, pulled away in the stretch to capture the $150,750 San Luis Rey (gr. IIT) in course record time on the turf March 16 at Santa Anita Park (VIDEO) .
With Victor Espinoza aboard him for the first time, Bright Thought ran the 1 1/2-mile distance over firm ground in an eye-catching 2:22.72 in his initial try at the distance. The time eclipsed the longstanding Santa Anita mark of 2:22 4/5 established by Hawkster on Oct. 14, 1989. The time is not considered a world record because the first three furlongs of the race are run downhill, according to the Santa Anita publicity office.
"He's an unbelievable horse, he's an unbelievable talent," said an enthused Espinoza afterward.
Bright Thought, now trained by Jorge Gutierrez, shipped west earlier this year and posted his third consecutive victory at Santa Anita with a 3 1/4-length triumph in the San Luis Rey. The 4-year-old son of Hat Trick out of the Smart Strike mare Smart Thought races for Marjorie Dye and Alex Venneri, whose Venneri Racing co-bred the dark bay or brown colt in Kentucky along with Postum Farm.
In his two previous starts at Santa Anita for Gutierrez, Bright Thought won the Super Bowl Party overnight handicap by 2 1/4 lengths Feb. 3 at odds of 13-1, then dominated an allowance/optional claiming event by 5 1/4 lengths as the favorite Feb. 21. The winner was previously trained by Stephanie Beattie.
Bright Thought, the 5-2 second choice in the field of eight, broke on the lead for Espinoza and battled for a half-mile with Slim Shadey in :47.48 before Espinoza allowed Slim Shadey to take control with one lap to run. Bright Thought stalked in second as Slim Shadey clicked off a 1:34.83 mile, quick for the distance. Slim Shadey's advantage was down to a half-length as they reached the quarter pole in a flashy 1:58.75, with Bright Thought taking a narrow advantage coming out of the far turn.
"He broke running, and I was going to go on with him, but I didn't want to go head-to-head with every other horse all the way to the wire so I eased back a bit," Espinoza said of the early change in tactics. "I gave him a little breather and started to let him run from the three-eighths (pole). It's a nice feeling to ride these kind of horses."
Despite the fast fractions, Bright Thought was able to go on with it as All Squared Away loomed as a threat at the top of the lane. Bright Thought reached the furlong mark a length in front of All Squared Away and sped away to score powerfully under urging from Espinoza.
All Squared Away, ridden by Edwin Maldonado, held second by three parts of a length over Fire With Fire, who finished willingly under Tyler Baze.
Interaction (ARG), the 2-1 favorite, enjoyed a ground-saving trip under Brice Blanc but failed to menace in the homestretch after being angled out and settled for fourth. Slim Shadey, the 123-pound highweight, weakened to fifth, followed by Tiz Gianni, Bourbon Bay, and Huntsville.
"It just didn't end up like I was hoping today," Blanc said of the favorite. "You know, I had a good trip but when we got to the middle of the turn, he didn't quicken at all, and I had a hard time maintaining my position down the lane; (he) just flattened out."
Bright Thought's fourth win in seven career outings was worth $90,000 and boosted his career bankroll to $164,500. He carried 118 pounds and paid $7.40, $5.80, and $4.60. All Squared Away, third last time in the San Marcos Stakes (gr. IIT) Feb. 9, returned $10.80 and $6.20 and was part of a $75 exacta. Fire With Fire, fourth in the San Marcos, paid $8.60.
John Scott scratched.
Gutierrez indicated Bright Thought would not run in the 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano Stakes (gr. IIT) on closing day April 21 at Santa Anita.
"I don't think I'm going to go longer with him," said Gutierrez, who won three races on the Santa Anita card. "We're going to sit back and see how he comes out of this and change the game plan a little bit. He's a nice horse but he's had three tough races here back to back, so he needs a little breather between this."