Molengao and Garrett Gomez win the San Antonio Handicap, Sunday at Santa Anita.

Molengao and Garrett Gomez win the San Antonio Handicap, Sunday at Santa Anita.


Molengao's Super Footwork Wins San Antonio

TNT Stud's homebred captures the San Antonio Handicap.

TNT Stud's homebred Molengao altered course mid-stretch but would not be denied his first stakes win, getting up in the final couple of strides to capture the $250,000 San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) by a head over the stubborn Ball Four at Santa Anita Sunday.

Leading jockey Garrett Gomez gained the mount on Molengao when his ride in the San Antonio, Backus, was scratched by Bob Baffert and Victor Espinoza took off his scheduled assignment on the late-running Brazilian-bred 6-year-old horse. Espinoza injured an ankle in a fall earlier in the day.

The victory was the fourth of the day for Gomez, who rode Molengao for the first time. For Gomez, the nation’s leading rider in purse earnings last year, it was his 43rd of the 29-day-old race meeting and his 10th in a stakes race. His margin of total wins over runner-up Espinoza expanded to nine.

Winning trainer Paulo Lobo said choosing Gomez to replace Espinoza was a no-brainer.

“He has all the stars (from heaven) on him,” Lobo said.

Gomez was able to save ground for most of the trip on the son of Royal Academy while racing near the rear of the seven-horse field, switching off the rail in early stretch and charging for the pacesetter Ball Four, who had the measure of El Roblar. Fast approaching El Roblar, Molengao appeared to duck in and nearly clipped heels. But Gomez checked Molengao in time and they recovered well, sweeping past El Roblar on the outside. Picking up momentum, Molengao caught the tiring Ball Four a few strides before the wire, completing the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:48 3/5.

“The horse had been training well," Lobo said. "He always tries hard every race and everything worked very well today."

Gomez said he was concerned earlier in the race when Molengao came out of the bridle after a half-mile and wouldn't change leads.

"He got some dirt in his face and we got shuffled back a little bit farther. I was able to wait and try to regroup, because I know this horse has a solid one eighth of a mile kick and we’d be in good shape if I could find daylight. I was able to find a spot at about the three eighths pole and things worked out.”

Ball Four, ridden by Julien Leparoux, had to fight 2-1 favorite Preachinatthebar for the early lead through an opening quarter mile of :22 4/5 before Leparoux slowed things down. The first half-mile went in :47 2/5 and the six-furlong time was 1:11 2/5. Preachinatthebar, perhaps taken out of his game when he and Ball Four left the field behind early, chased Ball Four until falling back after six furlongs. El Roblar, well positioned behind the pacesetters under Richard Migliore, took over the chase leaving the quarter pole and fought Ball Four for most of the stretch before giving way.

Molengao has won three of 12 starts in the United States after breaking his maiden in his debut in Brazil by nearly 12 lengths. He had lost five starts in a row since taking a 1 1/16-mile allowance test more than a year ago at Santa Anita. The chestnut had just one previous start since running second in Hollywood Park's Sunset Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) on the grass July 16. That came in the 1 1/8-mile Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) on the Hollywood Cushion Track Dec. 10, when Molengao finished a closing third. Sunday's win more than doubled his lifetime earnings to $298,477.

Lobo, who trained grade I winners Farda Amiga, champion 3-year-old filly in 2002, and Pico Central, won his last graded stakes in 2005 with Ace Blue in the Mervyn Leroy Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood Park. Sunday's win was Lobo's first in graded stakes at Santa Anita.

"It’s always a pleasure to win a stakes, especially here at Santa Anita," he said. "It’s very competitive.”

Lobo said he would speak to TNT Stud's Gonzalo Torrealba, of Rio de Janeiro, about running Molengao in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) Mar. 3.

Molengao paid $15,20, $6.60 and $4. Ball Four, showing much improvement over his fifth-place finish in the Native Diver, returned $7.60 and $5.20, completing a $95.40 exacta. El Roblar was $5.20 to show.

Preachinatthebar finished fourth, followed by Southern Africa, Fairbanks and Billy Allen. Porfido also scratched.
(Chart, Equibase)