Hollywood Park Race Report: A Star Brewing

Hollywood Park Race Report: A Star Brewing
Photo: AP/Benoit
Milwaukee Brew rallied to win the Californian.
Published in the June 22 issue of The Blood-Horse
If there was anyone who doubted Milwaukee Brew, they'd better think again. Proving his four-length romp in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) in March wasn't a fluke but instead a sign, the brawny bay changed his tactics and still came up big on June 15, running down Bosque Redondo late to win the $500,000 Californian Stakes (gr. II) at nine furlongs.

His success should come as no surprise. If anything, Milwaukee Brew's vault to the top of the division should remind us that racehorses, given suitable care and proper patience, will get better with age. With Milwaukee Brew, in fact, ability was never a concern. It's simply taken a while for the pieces to finally fit together.

From the start, the son of Wild Again certainly had all the trappings of a standout. On breeding alone--his dam, Ask Anita, was a top turf mare a few years back--he was born with a foundation of potential. Under the auspices of trainer Tino Attard, he didn't disappoint early on, winning the 2000 Ohio Derby (gr. II) and nearly pulling down the $1-million Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I) that summer.

From there, however, Milwaukee Brew's rep took a bit of a rap. Emerging from the barn of Joe Orseno as a 4-year-old, he seemed to be missing his luster. The brilliance waned, and by the time the colt made his way into the Southern California shedrow of trainer Bobby Frankel, he was a forgotten soul--forgotten, at least, to everyone but Frankel and owner Frank Stronach.

When Milwaukee Brew first arrived, Frankel gave him the once over, immediately liked what he saw, and promptly tucked him deep into his grade I laden barn. He looked sharp and trained even better. Even an initial defeat, a passable sixth in a small Fair Grounds stakes in February, wasn't a deterrent. Frankel simply brought Milwaukee Brew home, dusted him off, and watched him run away with the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap.

For Frankel, it was a vindication of confidence. Many, however, were not quite as impressed. Some questioned the quality of Milwaukee Brew's competition. Others pointed a finger at the early fractions.

"Everyone thought it was a donation via pace," said jockey Kent Desormeaux, bothered by the lack of respect. Indeed, the Big 'Cap frontrunners blazed a hot trail that day. When the pace ineluctably took its toll, Desormeaux and Milwaukee Brew simply rocked on by. Those who wanted validation, though, were forced to wait. Keeping their eyes on the ball--namely the Oct. 26 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I)--Frankel and Stronach opted to ease off afterward, instead aiming Milwaukee Brew at the second half of 2002.

Consequently, the unanswered questions were still present as Milwaukee Brew reappeared for the 49th Californian, where he faced a field that featured graded stakes winners Bosque Redondo, Redattore, and Momentum, the resilient Reba's Gold, and recent winners Lethal Instrument, Pie N Burger, and Investor's Dream. Despite the competition, an absence of more than three months, and the lingering doubts, Milwaukee Brew entered the gate the 17-10 favorite. He didn't disappoint.

In the 10-furlong Santa Anita Handicap, Milwaukee Brew was able to play it cool early before launching his winning move. Both Frankel and Desormeaux reasoned a similar strategy would only spell doom in the Californian. As a result, Milwaukee Brew was on the engine when the gates opened, settling into chase mode as Reba's Gold clocked opening splits of :22.78 and :46.28. The plan was simple, according to Desormeaux.

"They went :45 over there the last time," he said, adverting to the early tempo of the Big 'Cap. "The only reason we weren't up there was because they went too fast. Today he was on the pace. It's tough to make up ground on this track."

Down the backstretch, Desormeaux also had a sense Milwaukee Brew was struggling to find a firm hold of the track, and when Investor's Dream, Bosque Redondo, and Momentum took over on the far turn, he elected to sit still.

Turning for home, Momentum appeared to have the edge, but the effects of a wide trip soon began to show. With Investor's Dream safely put away at the fence and Momentum now unable to get by on the outside, Bosque Redondo was strong, seemingly home free.

Desormeaux, meanwhile, had waited long enough and finally shot Milwaukee Brew to the outside. Bosque Redondo, as expected, was a tough customer, and Desormeaux's whip never let up through the final furlong. It paid off. Milwaukee Brew tagged Bosque Redondo just before the wire, winning by a head in 1:48.06. Momentum stayed tough, finishing a length back in third.

Milwaukee Brew became Frankel's third Californian winner in the last seven years (Skimming and Tinners Way were the other two) and naturally puts him centerstage for the July 14 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I), a race he won last year with Aptitude via disqualification. As for Milwaukee Brew, the Californian may have finally opened the eyes of his skeptics.

"You can understand why people thought he got lucky because his form was so bad," Frankel said, adverting to the 'Big Cap resurrection. "But now people will realize he's a pretty good horse."


Denon Gets One

Though jockey Garrett Gomez just missed in the Californian with Momentum, the rest of his afternoon went quite well.

"A lot better than my meet's gone so far," he said between races. "It's been a little slow."

If his output on June 15 is any indication, then Gomez had better strap in tight. The next few months could be a wild ride. The 30-year-old Arizona native made it look easy in the day's other big ones, including a spotless ride aboard Denon in the $350,000 Charles Whittingham Handicap (gr. IT).

"I had a dream trip, actually," admitted Gomez. "A lot of times in these big races, it's just whoever's the most patient...and not only that, you've got to have the horse at the right time. It's actually nice to have one of those trips for a change. It made me look like genius, I guess."

Humble, yes. Accurate, no. Gomez is one of the next generation, a former bull rider who looks good on the back of a horse and rides accordingly. Give him a headliner and his performance speaks for itself.

In the 10-furlong Whittingham, he found the key to the classy Denon. The 4-year-old son of Pleasant Colony certainly looked like the second coming last fall with an awesome stateside debut in the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT). After a pair of uninspiring losses, both at Santa Anita last spring, he may be ready to fulfill his promise.

"The only thing Bobby (Frankel) told me to do with him was get him involved," Gomez explained back in the jocks' room. And once he'd put Denon in a safe spot along the fence, drafting behind the pacesetter Night Patrol, Gomez simply waited with his finger on the trigger.

Night Patrol managed an easy pace--a half in :50.39, three-quarters in 1:15.69--and leaving the backstretch, both Startac and Continental Red went after him. Looking ahead, Gomez gambled that the two attackers would lose their steam. Keying on Night Patrol instead, he waited some more.

"With the fractions we were setting up front, I thought it was the perfect spot to be in," he said. "It was just a matter of getting out fast enough before that horse got away by himself too long."

Continued...

(Chart, Equibase)

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