Einstein became the first East Coast shipper since Broad Brush in 1987 to capture the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO), capitalizing on a perfect trip with jockey Julien Leparoux to defeat the late closer Champs Elysees in the $1 million event.
The 7-year-old Brazilian-bred son of Spend a Buck is also a three-time grade I winner on turf. He went over the $2 million mark in career earnings with the victory for trainer Helen Pitts and Bill Gallion and Shirley Cunningham Jr.'s Midnight Cry Stable. The winning time for the 1 1/4-mile event was 2:01.93 over the Pro-Ride racing surface.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," an emotional PItts said after becoming the first female trainer to win the Santa Anita Handicap "He means so much to me. It's my biggest win."
Einstein found a perfect stalking position in fourth place on the outside as lukewarm 9-2 favorite Matto Mondo, pushed along by Cowboy Cal, carved slow fractions into the stretch. Einstein, advancing on the outside, struck the lead approaching the eighth pole and opened a clear advantage under urging, holding Champs Elysees and Jose Valdivia Jr. safe in deep stretch.
“I got a good trip. I got him covered up, and the race went like we expected," Leparoux said. "I expected Johnny (Velazquez on Cowboy Cal) and Rafael (Bejarano on Matto Mondo) to go. I expected to be third or fourth. I came running on the last turn, and we made a good run at the finish.
"Jose Valdivia’s horse (Champs Elysees) came flying at the end. But we had to make a move when we did. And I think if we could have waited a little longer, we would have won much easier than that. He handled the Pro-Ride surface just fine. He’s a good horse on the turf. He’s a good horse on the dirt. He’s a good horse on anything.”
Matto Mondo, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, finished a neck back in third with the outsider Monba fourth. Thirteen horses, after the scratch of morning line favorite Colonel John, competed.
Blue Exit, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, was pulled up on the far turn and was taken off the track by van. Track officials told Associated Press that the 4-year-old Pulpit colt was later euthanized due to his injuries. Jockey Robby Albarado was not injured.
The first two finishers have enjoyed most of their success on grass, although Einstein won the Clark Handicap (gr. II) on the Churchill Downs main track last November. Einstein came into the Big 'Cap off a third-place finish in Gulfstream Park's Donn Handicap (gr. I) Jan. 31 and had taken to the Pro-Ride in the mornings, according to Pitts.
"He (Julien Leparoux) rode him absolutely beautiful," said Pitts, a former assistant to Ken McPeek who has trained Einstein for his entire career. "They’re a great team, those two. It’s an unbelievable feeling. It just means the world to me. He was very comfortable with this track from the time he got here. I worked him on the grass, and I galloped him on the grass, and he felt very similar on the Pro-Ride."
Pitts said she would consider returning to Santa Anita for a crack at the Breeders' Cup at Oak Tree Nov. 6 and 7.
"It certainly is an option," she said. "We’d have to supplement him, but obviously, after today, it’s worth doing it.”
Einstein won his 10th career race -- his sixth stakes victory -- in 24 starts and increased his earnings to $2,278,020 with the winner's share of $600,000.
The dark bay horse, bred by Fazenda Mondesir, is out of Gay Charm, by Ghadeer.
The high weight at 121 pounds, Einstein paid $12, $7, and $4.60 as the third choice in the large field. The $2 exacta with Champs Elysees, who ran third in last year's Santa Anita Handicap, yet was dismissed at 27-1, was worth $225.80.
Champs Elysees, winner of the Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IT) Dec. 6, returned $19.40 and $11.60.
"I got lucky when Bobby Frankel gave me a call in the Hollywood Turf Cup, and I’ve been begging him to run him back over this stuff," Valdivia said of the Pro-Ride. "Man, we were just second best. I was gaining on that winner, but the pace didn’t help. The winner had a real good trip. Even though I had a great trip, I think if the pace had been a little hotter, we would have had a better chance at the end. But take nothing away from the winner, his first time running over this stuff.”
Matto Mondo was the narrow favorite off his 3 1/4-length win in the off-the-turf Thunder Road Handicap (gr. III) Feb. 7 for trainer Richard Mandella. He paid $5.20 to show. Getting off the rail shortly after the start, he set comfy fractions of :24.52, :48.31 and 1:12.93 with Cowboy Cal close up, and kept fighting through the lane while edged for the place spot by Champs Elysees.
“We got a pretty easy lead, but I had to let him go running a little bit earlier than I wanted," Bejarano said. "Maybe if I could have waited a little bit longer, it would have been better.”
It was a half-length to Monba and substitute rider Garrett Gomez, who replaced an ill Edgar Prado. They were followed by Magnum, Dansant, Court Vision, Cowboy Cal, Zambezi Sun, Stream Cat, Cause and Heroi Do Bafra.