Tates Creek, winning the San Gorgonio.

Tates Creek, winning the San Gorgonio.

Benoit photos

Santa Anita Race Report: Flying Colors

Published in the Jan. 18 issue of The Blood-Horse
The journey seemed easy enough, or at least that's what trainer Pat Byrne thought. From his base at Palm Meadows Training Center in South Florida, Byrne loaded Pass Rush, equine voyager nonpareil, onto a van, leaving the colt in the capable hands of assistant and traveling lad Kevin Willey. Byrne watched them depart for the short trip to Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport.

From there, the trip would be simple. Only a brief layover in Dayton, Ohio, would interrupt an otherwise smooth cargo flight to Los Angeles, where Willey would put the final touches on Pass Rush for the $219,600 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II).

Hours later, a phone call nearly sent Byrne through the roof.

"I thought it was a bad joke," he said.

Fortunately for Byrne, Pass Rush is a worry-free sort who actually thrives on interstate travel. The Indiana-bred son of Crown Ambassador definitely came through with flying colors in the San Fernando, looping the leaders on the far turn en route to a 3 1/2-length triumph. The effort gives Pass Rush a serious shot at the Strub Stakes (gr. II) three weeks hence. For Byrne, however, the win wrapped up a cross-country excursion that was less than ideal.

"I don't really know how tough the field was," Byrne conceded, keeping a realistic point of view. "Some of your better 4-year-olds obviously didn't run, but this horse is improving. The big question for me getting Pass Rush out there was the shipping. That was the biggest hurdle. He had a really rough trip."

What Byrne figured to be routine instead became very high-maintenance. By the time Willey and Pass Rush disembarked at Los Angeles International Airport, their plane had not only spent time at Dayton but had made unanticipated stops at Orlando and Nashville, as well. When Willey ultimately relayed the adventure via cell phone, Byrne couldn't help but think the worst.

"If you'd have told me going in, 'Yeah, we can get you out there, but you're going to be landing here, here, and here,' I'm not coming for the race," he said. "I mean, you and I don't like sitting on the plane and landing three or four times, let alone putting a horse through it.

"But you know, he's a good shipper," he added. "That's the thing. I wouldn't have sent him otherwise. For any horseman, you've got to know your horse, period. It takes a certain horse to do that. And I knew this horse could handle shipping to California on a Tuesday night five days out. But I sure didn't plan on hopscotching across the country."

To characterize Pass Rush as unique might be understating the truth. Owned by Michael Tabor, the 4-year-old chestnut has started at Churchill Downs three times, Hoosier Park twice, Pimlico, Prairie Meadows, Arlington Park, Mountaineer Park, Sam Houston, and now Santa Anita--all since just May.

"Look at his charts. I mean, this horse, he's run in nine different states now," said Byrne laughing, who watched from Gulfstream Park. "I'm probably taking advantage of the horse's natural affinity for travel. All of a sudden, we seem like we've run everywhere."

A pair of extra stopovers in Orlando and Nashville plainly made little difference. Pass Rush arrived at Santa Anita to face a San Fernando field that lacked a true standout. In fact, not a single runner from the Dec. 26 Malibu Stakes (gr. I)--the first of the three-part Strub Series for 4-year-olds--returned for the second leg. Instead, Pass Rush lined up against a cast of hopefuls led by favored Tizbud, the kid brother of both Tiznow and Budroyale. Tizbud was 3-1, riding an impressive maiden win and the genes of a resilient family. The rest weren't far behind.

Pass Rush entered the gate at 7-2, while California Derby champ Tracemark and Rushin' to Altar, a recent allowance winner, were both 4-1. Mananan McLir and Century City, a pair of turf transplants making their dirt debuts, were 6-1. Only Groom On the Run and Traditional seemed to be chasing a mirage.

Under Corey Nakatani, Pass Rush broke with purpose in the 1 1/16-mile San Fernando, but leaving the eight-hole afforded him only a tracking position in third for the first half-mile. Two lengths ahead, Traditional led Tizbud until Mananan McLir sidled up the rail to take control entering the far turn. Though four-wide, Nakatani had Pass Rush on a similar attack, passing Tizbud and a tired Traditional to challenge Mananan McLir at the quarter pole.

But there was no challenge. Pass Rush swooped right on by, bounding along as if the San Fernando had suddenly fallen to pieces. He slammed the door for good passing the eighth pole, before pulling clear in the stretch. Tracemark, trained by Craig Dollase, emerged to edge Tizbud by a half-length for second.

"He ran okay," said Tizbud's trainer, John Sadler. "It wasn't really the ride I was looking for, but the horse's effort I was happy with. A little farther, I think, will be better."

Byrne, likewise, could only commend Pass Rush's performance.

"This horse, he's got talent," he said. "He's doing better with maturity. When you pick a race, you've got to go across the country, you've got to overcome obstacles, and it works out like this, it's really, really rewarding. It's nice when you execute a plan."

Quick Creek

"Did she come home or what?" exclaimed jockey Pat Valenzuela, definitely enjoying the view from atop Tates Creek. "Look at the time that last quarter!"

The line of all-star turf mares to call the Bobby Frankel barn home in recent years is long and distinguished. During the past decade, no less than four champions--Possibly Perfect, Wandesta, Ryafan, and Banks Hill--have carried the stable torch. Another standout, Starine, could be No. 5, not to mention those who weren't so honored: Toussaud, See You Soon, Happyanunoit, and Spanish Fern (among others) were nothing short of miracles themselves.

Tates Creek may well be the one to now assume the throne. She got off to a good start on Jan. 11, outkicking stablemate Megahertz to win the $150,000 San Gorgonio Handicap (gr. IIT). The daughter of Rahy has the credentials to be among the country's best. One would be hard-pressed to find a mare more reliable than Tates Creek.

Save for an anomalous sixth in last summer's 1 3/16-mile Beverly D. Stakes (gr. IT), the Juddmonte Farms homebred has been consistent throughout her 13-race career. Her performance in the nine-furlong San Gorgonio was simply more of the same. Under Valenzuela, Tates Creek stayed close to pacesetting Double Cat throughout, a fortuitous move considering the :49.01 opening half. The slow pace kept the field bottled up, hindering the progress of both Megahertz and Alozaina when the leaders finally split turning for home.

Megahertz, making her first start against older horses, eventually got loose and launched her patented late kick. Tates Creek could not be caught, though. The two Frankel femmes were three-quarters of a length apart at the finish. Tates Creek, racing her final eighth in :11.04, got the distance in 1:46.91. She also got herself a brief respite.

"She's going to get a rest, probably till Hollywood," said Frankel, who has now won five of the last eight runnings of the San Gorgonio. "She's been running real hard all year. I'm in good shape for grass fillies, so I can give this one a little break. She deserves it."


(Chart, Equibase)