Santa Anita Race Report: Still in Season

Santa Anita Race Report: Still in Season
Photo: AP/Benoit Photo
Summer Colony draws off to win La Canada.
Published in the Feb. 16 issue of The Blood-Horse
Forget the Derby contenders or the handicap warriors. Perhaps the hottest horse in the country is Summer Colony. The 4-year-old filly knocked out her sixth straight win--and the biggest one to date--in the $200,000 La Canada Stakes (gr. II) on Feb. 9.

To see the true gem Summer Colony has been polished into, you must overlook her first six races--all losses. Focus instead on an August afternoon last summer, when she got a golden opportunity and the world changed for good.

Bred and owned by Edward P. Evans, Summer Colony arrived at Saratoga last summer still a maiden, but when trainer Mark Hennig finally sent the filly two turns on dirt, the metamorphosis was instant. Summer Colony emerged a tigress. After obliterating a helpless bunch by--no mistake--32 3/4 lengths, the daughter of Summer Squall blew through her allowance conditions, taking her next three by an average margin of seven lengths. Her spectacular late-season run culminated with a narrow neck victory in Aqueduct's Ladies Handicap (gr. III).

To kick off the filly's 4-year-old season, Hennig first gave a long look at Gulfstream Park's 1 1/16-mile Sabin Handicap (gr. III). It had become apparent, however, that for Summer Colony, the longer the race, the better, so instead, she was sent right into the heart of the 1 1/8-mile La Canada. With a fatter purse and an extra sixteenth of a mile to work with, it seemed like an ideal fit. It was also a chance to see just how good she really was.

"She's coming off five straight wins, and there's no better time to go hunting bigger game than when your horse is at an all-time high confidence-wise," Hennig said. "We just felt like even though we were coming all the way to California, we were at least going to get to play our game, which is a mile and an eighth and beyond."

The La Canada presented Summer Colony her stiffest challenge yet. She made the most of it. As expected, Royally Chosen took charge from the gate, and the In Excess filly got away with a soft opening half in :48.37. Summer Colony, ordinarily accustomed to setting the tone herself, instead hung back in third under Gary Stevens.

By the quarter pole, though, Royally Chosen had thrown in the towel, leaving Summer Colony and Ask Me No Secrets, a daughter of Seattle Slew from the David Hofmans barn, to pick up the pieces. Summer Colony soon gained command, but passing the eighth pole, a fresh challenge appeared to the outside. It was a muscle-bound chestnut, to be sure, but it wasn't Affluent, the one most expected.

Instead, jockey Mike Smith came with the undefeated Azeri, and the daughter of Jade Hunter rallied with quite a burst. Summer Colony withstood the threat, though, staying strong to score by a length in 1:49.26. Ask Me No Secrets finished third, a length behind Azeri. Affluent, trying to become just the third filly in track history to sweep the La Canada series, and the 4-5 favorite, was an uncharacteristic fourth.

"We felt that she would rate and relax and do whatever we needed her to do," Hennig said the next day. "But of course traveling across the country to run against the best horses she's faced, and then knowing she's probably going to have to settle off the speed a little bit, I think she passed those tests with flying colors."

Yes, It's You
Finally. For three straight weeks, jockey Jerry Bailey ventured west to ride Siphonic, Squirtle Squirt, and Lido Palace. All were heavily favored--and all were beaten. When Bailey was given a leg up on 6-5 choice You in the $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes (gr. I) on Feb. 10, however, there were no fans lined up waiting to throw tomatoes or eggs in his direction.

And this time, Bailey didn't disappoint, as he guided the 3-year-old You and I filly to an exciting decision over her rival, Habibti. The one-mile Las Virgenes brought together a trio of grade-I winners--You, Habibti, and Tali'sluckybusride--and fittingly, they mixed it up all the way to the wire.

When the three had gotten together in the Hollywood Starlet (gr. I) last December, Tali'sluckybusride had offered little resistance when You and Habibti came calling. This time, the Oak Leaf Stakes (gr. I) winner hung tough until deep stretch. Unlike the Starlet, however, You never surrendered the lead in the Las Virgenes. She kept Habibti at bay by a length in 1:36.84, with Tali'sluckybusride two lengths back in third.

After forgettable efforts in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) last fall, You and Habibti have a square account. Look for them to face off again in the March 9 Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I). Bobby Frankel trains You for owner Edmund Gann.


Full Steam Ahead
While there's no denying the depth of the local division of 3-year-old fillies, their male counterparts--at this stage, at least--can best be described as unstable. Labamta Babe, so impressive in the recent Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II), is already out with an injury. Came Home and Fonz's are both choice, though pundits question their ability to excel as races lengthen. Even Siphonic, the pro tem leader, still needs a solid rebound from his losing, albeit gallant, seasonal debut.

The road to Churchill Downs is indeed tortuous, and nobody knows that better than Jerry Hollendorfer. As chief of one of the nation's deepest barns, Hollendorfer perennially runs up numbers that make most trainers gasp. Twice, however, he has taken his dreams along the Triple Crown trail. Both endeavors resulted in crushing blows.

In 1998, Hollendorfer rolled into Louisville with undefeated Event of the Year, a bona fide contender with looks that could kill. Just days before the Derby, though, the colt cracked a knee galloping, missing his shot at immortality. Two years later, Globalize took the trainer to the brink yet again. He was promptly kicked by a stable pony just hours before the race, leaving Hollendorfer no option but to scratch the horse.

No, Hollendorfer isn't glancing over his shoulder, dreading the next mishap. But even after U S S Tinosa bombed a hopeful cast in the restricted Sham Stakes on Feb. 8, his outlook remained realistic.

"I like to take it a step at a time," Hollendorfer said from his base at Golden Gate Fields. "And the horse will prove himself one way or another. We're very pleased with him right now, and we think that he has great potential."

Named for a World War II submarine, U S S Tinosa aptly blew 'em out of the water in the nine-furlong Sham. Under jockey Kent Desormeaux, the son of Foxhound tracked Shah Jehan and Cottonwood Cowboy early on, attacked on the far turn, and powered home to win by 4 1/2 lengths. Puerto Banus, a Supremo colt and a half-brother to Spain, held off Hot Contest for second. Shah Jehan, a $4.4-million son of Mr. Prospector, finished last in his stateside debut for D. Wayne Lukas.

U S S Tinosa, on the other hand, got the distance in 1:49.11, stamping himself as one to reckon with in the coming months. To keep the battleship gray on an upward curve, Hollendorfer will have to scale the colt back a bit in March. The El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Golden Gate and Santa Anita's San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) are under consideration. Both are run at 1 1/16 miles.

"I don't think it'll hurt," Hollendorfer said. "Right now, we're being very optimistic that the next step he takes will be a forward step, and really, horses at this stage of the game are only two races away from the Derby."

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(Chart, Equibase)

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