Santa Anita Race Report: Well Brewed

Santa Anita Race Report: Well Brewed
Photo: Benoit & Associates
Milwaukee Brew's Big 'Cap win gave Bobby Frankel his third straight win in a $1-million race.
Published in the March 9 issue of The Blood-Horse
Alan Landsburg--racehorse owner, Oscar winner, noted television producer--appeared in the winner's circle on March 2, hardware in hand, adding a little Hollywood glitz to the award presentation following the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I). Among his countless hits through the years, Landsburg is responsible for the show "That's Incredible!"

It was quite fitting, especially since "that's incredible" was the consensus after Frank Stronach's Milwaukee Brew turned the 10-furlong Big 'Cap upside down. But leave it to Bobby Frankel to not only snag the honors with a horse who seemed a mere afterthought, but to do it for the head honcho of the whole establishment.

Of course, nothing Frankel does these days shocks anybody. After the run he's had the past few months and years, the guy could take up skeleton and probably become a world-beater. It should come as no surprise, then, that Frankel's control of Southern California's million-dollar main events--he's bagged the last three now-- continued with Milwaukee Brew. After all, the race was prime for the pickings.

The 65th Santa Anita Handicap won't go in the books as the most quality-packed ever, but what the cast lacked in talent it more than made up for in competitiveness. The defection of Strub Stakes (gr. II) winner Mizzen Mast (quarter crack) opened a floodgate, and nearly every older horse on the grounds with recent form and a realistic chance of staying 10 furlongs was tossed into the mix. When the post positions were drawn three days out, the Big 'Cap field numbered 14, its highest total since Bates Motel outran 16 others to take the '83 renewal.

Despite their absent leader, the 4-year-old spear carriers included the improving Giant Gentleman, second to Mizzen Mast in both the Malibu (gr. I) and Strub, and the multi-talented Western Pride. Fancy As, the Canadian sensation, sported a 13-for-17 ledger but heretofore seemed a step behind the West Coast's best.

They faced an abundant, albeit suspect, group of elders, led by the Frank Stronach-owned duo, Euchre and Milwaukee Brew, as well as Cagney and Kudos, a pair of turf transplants from the Richard Mandella barn. There were enough question marks to convince the connections of both Futural and Sky Jack, despite the fact both were returning from injury-induced layoffs. At least they had a strong one-mile allowance to their credit, which was more than Freedom Crest, who hadn't seen action at all since getting pounded in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I). Even longshots Dig For It, Seinne, Irisheyesareflying, and Last Parade were worth at least a second glance.

Naturally, the fans were at a loss. Unlike years past, when they only had eyes for standouts like Tiznow, Best Pal, Farma Way, and Alysheba, the 30,411 who showed up March 2 couldn't have found a solid favorite with a map. You couldn't blame them, considering the highweights, Euchre and Futural, both tacked 118 pounds, the same impost a batch of 3-year-old maidens carried in the afternoon opener. The lack of a hot choice consequently made for a first-rate wagering event.

Futural got the nod as the field headed into the gate, though he was a shaky 3-1. The Euchre/Milwaukee Brew entry stepped in at 9-2, though that money was primarily riding on Euchre. Even Frankel acknowledged that on the surface, it was hard to endorse Milwaukee Brew, who hadn't seen the winner's circle in nearly 20 months.

"Probably 30 or 40-1" was a more realistic figure, according to Frankel, who promptly quipped, "I shoulda scratched the other horse and bet him." But despite the bay's apparent drawbacks, both Frankel and jockey Kent Desormeaux had seen a ray of light in Milwaukee Brew's sixth-place run in Fair Grounds' Whirlaway Stakes.

"To be honest with you, I liked this horse," Frankel admitted later on. "When we sent him to New Orleans, he never ran a jump and got beat 4 1/2 lengths."

"It was just a learning experience," added Desormeaux, "learning about his talent, what he can do. It certainly instilled confidence. I rode him exactly like I rode him over there. I just let him get comfortable early and tried to race home."

In the Big 'Cap, it made all the difference. As the runners sorted themselves into place early on, it was Western Pride and Pat Valenzuela who darted to the front. Trailed closely by Sky Jack and Giant Gentleman, the Way West colt clocked a snappy :22.28 first quarter, and by the time the front phalanx hit the backside, Western Pride had sealed their fate with a :45.06 half.

From there, Valenzuela managed to sneak in a breather--the third quarter was an easier :24.49--and heading around the turn, Western Pride was in full command, two lengths clear and just a quarter-mile from paydirt.

"He's one of those kind of horses if you go with him, you're gonna end up killing yourself," Valenzuela later said. "I tried to pull a Spend A Buck on 'em, and I just couldn't do it."

The tactics almost worked. But even Western Pride wasn't immune to the heated pace; Valenzuela had the whip out before they hit the stretch. Desormeaux and Milwaukee Brew, meanwhile, had been playing it cool for six furlongs, rocking along to their own beat. With three furlongs to run, Desormeaux finally gunned the son of Wild Again, and when they finally appeared near the eighth pole, Western Pride had no response. Milwaukee Brew blasted right on by, winning by an expanding four lengths in 2:01.02. Western Pride, a bust in the Strub, valiantly held second over Kudos.

For Frankel, it would be hard to top 2001, but at this stage, he may be ready to run the table again. His influence in the handicap division alone is staggering. Considering Milwaukee Brew went in ranking only fourth in his own stable behind Mizzen Mast, Lido Palace, and Euchre, his powerhouse effort in the Big 'Cap can only spell doom for the competition. And Skimming is still on the back burner, counting the days until Del Mar. Even Frankel admits his firepower has been increased.

"I hate to say it, but it's even deeper," he said, sizing up his current barn. "That doesn't mean I'll do as well, 'cause I was real lucky in a lot of spots, but I've got a lot better horses this year."

After what he accomplished last year, that's incredible.

At the Wire...
With all props to Xtra Heat, the best sprinter in the country right now is Overbrook Farm's Snow Ridge. The Tabasco Cat colt made it three straight March 3 with an easy score in the $150,000 San Carlos Handicap (gr. I) at seven furlongs. Ridden by soul mate Mike Smith fro trainer D. Wayne Lukas, the 4-year-old chestnut beat longshot Alyzig by 1 1/2 lengths, becoming the first horse in track history to sweep the El Conejo (gr. III), Palos Verdes (gr. II), and San Carlos handicaps...One horse Snow Ridge may have to tangle with in the near future is Crafty C.T., who came back with a bang on Big 'Cap Day. After a summer of aggravation that nearly drove trainer Howard Zucker to insanity--blame an intestinal ulcer--the 4-year-old son of Crafty Prospector turned in a smooth six furlongs in his return, dusting the stakes-winning D'Wildcat by four lengths. He is owned by Carl Grether...Trainer Laura De Seroux gave us our first glimpse of High Society on March 1, and the Irish-bred filly could have a say-so in upcoming grass engagements. The 3-year-old daughter of Key of Luck had no trouble adapting to the hillside grass layout, winning the La Habra Stakes for owners Liberty Road Stable and San Gabriel Investments.

(Chart, Equibase)

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