Santa Anita Race Report: Picture Perfect

Santa Anita Race Report: Picture Perfect
Photo: AP/Benoit photo
Kalookan Queen races to the finish and a victory in the Santa Monica Handicap.
Published in the Feb. 2 issue of The Blood-Horse
A step inside the office of trainer Bruce Headley is truly a stroll into yesterday. A panoply of pictures bedecks the small room, inviting visitors and stable hands alike to relive days gone by, to glimpse at the ones who have taken the Headley name to the top. Thorium to Trondheim. Stylish Winner to Son of a Pistol. Variety Road, Bertrando, and, of course, Kona Gold. They're all up there, 30-plus years of athletic images gracing every conceivable parcel of space.

Make room for one more--and this one's a beauty. Validating her reputation as one of the most consistent sprinters around, Kalookan Queen finally landed a big one on Jan. 26, capturing the seven-furlong Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I). Let's just hope Headley finds a picture frame that's big enough.

"You see how she dwarfed them fillies yesterday? She's huge, man. Look at the size of her," Headley marveled, pointing out the mare's standout qualities. "Look at that beautiful face, big nostrils. And then she gets elegant through the neck. See, she's up off the ground. She's got a lot of air under her. And she's got the body to give it the turnover. She's like a locomotive--powerful and fast."

Indeed, even as a youngster, it was Kalookan Queen's robust figure that had enticed Headley. In his eyes, the daughter of Lost Code had all the physical hallmarks of a stone-cold sprinter. Her looks could stop a clock, he thought. And when the young filly eventually zipped a furlong that set the track ablaze, nary a soul could deny the filly's latent ability.

"Everybody with a stopwatch could see she could run, and everybody with a pair of eyes could see her body was the real thing," Headley said. "At that time, it was the fastest eighth of a mile ever worked at Pomona--which meant nothing to me. I liked her body. She had everything."

Over the ensuing four years, Kalookan Queen has been as steady as a river, coursing the typical Headley path to success. The seven-furlong Santa Monica was a due reward.

Facing just four others, Kalookan Queen arrowed to the lead under regular rider Alex Solis, covering a relaxed opening quarter in :22.11. Favorite Funtime skirted the rail to take control, but her lead was transient, for leaving the three-eighths pole, Solis put Kalookan Queen on the move. Simultaneously, he began his watch for Spain.

But the 2000 Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) winner didn't have quite the same lick as the two leaders and she was nowhere in sight. With Favorite Funtime safely at bay down inside, Solis looped a quick cross, took one more peek for insurance, and let Kalookan Queen fly.

While this took mere seconds, it was long enough for Kalookan Queen to bust the race wide open. By midstretch, her formidable lead meant Santa Monica redux. Two years ago, Kalookan Queen found herself in the very same position, leading the Santa Monica in the closing stages. That day, however, Honest Lady came roaring by at the last minute to spoil the party. Now--suddenly--Solis felt his heart skip a beat again.

"I got the pace that I wanted, really," he later said. "The only thing that got me a little nervous was at the eighth pole when she thought the race was over, she started looking around. This is the first time she did it. She's never done it before."

And someone was coming again, but it wasn't Spain. Instead, Pat Valenzuela had split Spain and Favorite Funtime aboard the 7-year-old Leading Light, a frequent claimer given a shot at fame by trainer Vladimir Cerin. She made the most of it, too, but her late-inning rally fell just short. The final margin was a half-length.

It was a fitting dividend both for Headley's thorough patience and the persistence of owner Louis Asistio, a resident of Kalookan, Philippines. When the bidding on a 2-year-old Kalookan Queen reached $250,000 at public auction, Headley was prepared to raise the white flag. It was Asistio who provided the verbal impetus to get him back in the action. They ended up with the young filly for $275,000. The Santa Monica was simply a performance that was as grand as the big girl herself.

"Ninety-nine percent of the horse owners don't even reach grade I. Just to run in a grade I is a privilege, an achievement," Asistio said the following morning. "Everybody can buy, everybody can breed. But to win a grade I is something."

The Long and Short Of It
Kalookan Queen's narrow decision over Leading Light probably seemed like a mile to the chagrined backers of Irish Prize, the blue-blooded turf runner with a penchant for cliffhangers. Squeamish? Better look elsewhere. Irish Prize generates enough drama to send anyone's blood pressure off the charts, and things were no different on Jan. 21 when the son of Irish River downed longshot Continental Red in the $150,000 San Marcos Stakes (gr. IIT).

In contrast to his poor start in last month's San Gabriel Handicap (gr. IIT), Irish Prize gave jockey Gary Stevens all the options in the 10-furlong San Marcos, and early on, he settled amidst a pace-setting quartet led by Takarian. Takarian galloped through a mile in 1:38.14 before the race morphed into a flat-out sprint. Of course, this played right into Irish Prize's hands.

As usual, he didn't get there without a fight. This time, the challenge came from Continental Red, and to his credit, the son of Flying Continental gave Irish Prize every chance to lose. He still wouldn't. Running a final quarter in :23, Irish Prize prevailed by nose, with Cagney a half-length back in third. Neil Drysdale trains the homebred for Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum's Gainsborough Farm.

A day after Spain was defeated in the Santa Monica, the $150,000 Palos Verdes Handicap (gr. II) saw another yet Breeders' Cup winner go down when Snow Ridge scotched the comeback of last year's Penske Auto Center Sprint (gr. I) winner, Squirtle Squirt.

With Squirtle Squirt in the lineup, the six-furlong Palos Verdes figured to be a blitz the moment the doors opened. Snow Ridge, however, managed to outfoot them all leaving the gate, and accompanied by Squirtle Squirt, the son of Tabasco Cat tore through splits of :21.13 and :43.31, fractions that would have fried most horses.

Squirtle Squirt still hung tough, but when the pair straightened away for home, Snow Ridge found another gear. Leaving Squirtle Squirt behind, the 4-year-old colt powered away to win by four lengths under jockey Mike Smith. The lack of recent racing perhaps did Squirtle Squirt in--the Marquetry colt had not raced in 11 weeks--yet he still held off Ceeband and Men's Exclusive for second.

And despite enduring a downpour, Snow Ridge got the distance in 1:07.70, further improving his rank in the echelon of West Coast sprinters. Owned by Overbrook Farm, he is trained by D. Wayne Lukas.  

(Chart, Equibase)

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