Composure wins the Oak Leaf.

Composure wins the Oak Leaf.

AP/Benoit Photo

Santa Anita Race Report (Cont.)

Her Majesty

"It's very simple," began jockey Alex Solis, heaping his usual praise on one Bruce Headley. "When you get a combination with a person that you believe in what he's doing, it gives you such tremendous confidence that it doesn't matter who you're running against. That's what Headley does. I strongly believe in the things he does with his horses, and I mean, I've been riding for him, what, 12, 13, 14 years? It's all about believing what they're doing and trust."

As Headley's go-to guy for the past few years, Solis has partnered with several of the barn's best, including Son of a Pistol, Bertrando, Lakota Brave, and Kona Gold. On Oct. 5, he was aboard the grand mare herself, Kalookan Queen, as she turned in a career performance in the $207,875 Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. I) at six furlongs.

Though not as renowned as her East Coast counterpart, Xtra Heat, Kalookan Queen has definitely established herself as the premier female sprinter in California, and for the second time this year, the 6-year-old Lost Code mare was able to step up and meet the boys head on. Both Rio Oro and Explicit headed precipitately through splits of :21.08 and :43.27, but Solis had Kalookan Queen in striking distance throughout. He also managed to keep Crafty C. T. pinned behind the pace, a move that proved decisive when Kalookan Queen finally spurted clear in mid-stretch.

Crafty C. T. ultimately got loose, but by then Kalookan Queen was gone. They crossed the wire a half-length apart in 1:08.26. The Ancient Title victory consequently put Kalookan Queen over the $1-million mark for her owner, Luis Asistio.

Perfectly Inspiring
As a showcase for the best handicap talent around, the $500,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) was definitely lacking. True, attrition has cost the West Coast such notables as Skimming, Kudos, Bosque Redondo, and Sky Jack--again. But when the winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita Handicap, Pacific Classic (all gr. I), and Strub Stakes (gr. II) are on local backstretches and not in the gate for California's biggest Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) prep, it's hard to get inspired.

But there is definitely a silver lining, and his name is Pleasantly Perfect. As a son of Pleasant Colony, he's understandably big. As a grandson of Affirmed, he's tailor-made for the Breeders' Cup's 10 furlongs. As his 3 1/4-length rumble in the Goodwood proved, he's definitely for real.

Of course, the callow 4-year-old could be any kind of horse. The colt has made just nine starts to date, all but one coming this year, and the nine-furlong Goodwood sent him to a new orbit. Early on, Solis eschewed committing Pleasantly Perfect to a front-running stampede, instead allowing the big guy to settle back on his own. Leaving the half-mile pole, Solis put Pleasantly Perfect into the game, and within a quarter-mile, they presented the biggest danger. Not even Momentum could withstand the sudden rush.

The sustained move put Pleasantly Perfect in front passing the eighth pole, and he won easily. Forgive Momentum--second in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I), Pacific Classic, and now the Goodwood--if he's having doubts about the game.

Owned by Gerald Ford, Pleasantly Perfect got the distance in a sharp 1:46.80, an effort certainly sufficient to earn a berth in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) three weeks hence.

Mandella may very well find himself with a runner in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) as well. About a half-hour after Pleasantly Perfect took his game to a new level, Ralph and Aury Todd's homebred The Tin Man came through to win the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship Stakes (gr. IT) at 10 furlongs.

The 4-year-old Affirmed gelding had it all his own way throughout, easing through six furlongs in 1:12.26 and a mile in 1:35.49. Sarafan, the 4-5 favorite, put in his reliable run, but The Tin Man could not be caught. He won by a length, stopping the clock in 1:58.93.

Canani Lite
In both 1999 and 2001, the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IIT) went to trainer Julio Canani. On Oct. 5, his son, Nick, picked up the baton and kept the tradition going. Both of his father's horses--first Silic and then Val Royal--subsequently made off with the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT). Nick Canani may very well follow the layout with Night Patrol.

Over the last six months, the 6-year-old son of Storm Boot has quietly developed a rep as one of the top turf milers on the West Coast. In the Oak Tree Mile, Night Patrol and the rest of the bunch were overshadowed by 9-10 favorite Congaree, and for the first six furlongs, the Arazi colt was in full command. After three-quarters in 1:09.21, however, Congaree turned into the stretch with nothing in the tank, and Night Patrol was the first to strike. Under jockey Jose Valdivia Jr., he was stretched to the wire by Kachamandi. The final margin was a nose. Nicobar stormed home to take third, another nose away. Owned by Jeffrey Nielsen's Everest Stables, Night Patrol got the mile in 1:32.93.

Bob's Babies
Though Congaree was a big disappointment in the Oak Tree Mile, no one could stop trainer Bob Baffert's ongoing dominance in both 2-year-old divisions. In fact, the overabundance of young talent at Barn 1B forced a coast-to-coast offensive during the weekend of Oct. 5-6, and as a result, Baffert youngsters managed to make a little noise in the Frizette (gr. I), Champagne (gr. I), and Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (gr. II).

It was back home, though, where the damage was really done. Though nothing can quite compare to Baffert's supremacy in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. II)--the man's won it seven years running--his record in the $200,000 Oak Leaf Stakes (gr. II) is quite admirable. Save for a spike in the graph last year, Baffert has owned the Oak Leaf since 1997. Not surprisingly, Bob and Beverly Lewis' Composure came through to keep things status quo.

But Baffert's previous winners--Vivid Angel, Excellent Meeting, Chilukki, and Notable Career--all sported proper credentials heading into the Oak Leaf. By contrast, Composure, a daughter of Tough Gold, went in with just three starts--and a mere maiden sprint win--to her credit. No matter, though. Composure's easy triumph over Buffythecenterfold was purely professional, accomplished in a manner that augurs a bright, bright future.

Ridden by Smith, Composure shadowed Buffythecenterfold to the quarter pole before pushing clear for good a furlong later. She won by a widening three lengths in 1:42.65, a time that was actually a tenth of a second faster than her stablemates Kafwain and Bull Market ran a day before in the $200,000 Norfolk Stakes (gr. II). And though Kafwain, a Cherokee Run colt owned by The Thoroughbred Corp., prevailed by a head, it was Bull Market's brave run that drew most of Baffert's post-race raves.

The son of Holy Bull went quick the entire way, pushed to the quarter pole by longshot Royal Siphon, yet when Kafwain and jockey Victor Espinoza finally appeared at the eighth pole, Bull Market and Smith fought back courageously. This time, though, Kafwain proved best. Listen Indy, an A.P. Indy colt trained by Mandella, ran a good third.


(Chart, Equibase)