Santa Anita Race Report: En Fuego

Published in the March 2 issue of The Blood-Horse
Think back a few months and see if you can recall the name Above Perfection. Need a hint? She was at Belmont last July, stretching the redoubtable Xtra Heat to the max in the Prioress Stakes (gr. I). If you're still having difficulty, don't worry. You'll be hearing plenty from her this year.

With props to the fleet Go Go, Above Perfection is one of the two fastest females this side of Xtra Heat. On Feb. 23, she squared off with the other, Kalookan Queen, in the $125,000 Las Flores Handicap (gr. III), and in the span of 1:08.65, the daughter of In Excess sent vibes that may have stretched all the way to Dubai.

That's where Above Perfection may show up next, according to her trainer, Darrell Vienna. With a possible rematch against Xtra Heat on the horizon, the single-minded speedster would be right at home blazing through the straightaway six furlongs of the Golden Shaheen (UAE-I). By the time the dust settles on the evening of March 23, it may just be the girls who set the Nad Al Sheba course on fire.

So far, Above Perfection has come close to living up to her name. A winner of six of eight lifetime starts for owners David and Rita Milch, she was merely learning the ropes when she hooked Xtra Heat back east. In the six-furlong Las Flores, Above Perfection jumped to a new level.

And though she jumped to a quick lead under Corey Nakatani, Alex Solis and Kalookan Queen soon emerged to their outside, and as a pair, they zipped through a half in :43.46. Nakatani had rationed his filly carefully, however, leaving Above Perfection with enough juice to keep Kalookan Queen at bay. It was a thriller to the end, though on this day, there was never any question. Carrying 117 pounds to Kalookan Queen's 122, Above Perfection pulled clear to score by a length.

Whether Above Perfection makes the journey overseas or not is still up in the air. A little over two hours after the Las Flores, Vienna and the Milches watched their other crack sprinter, Echo Eddie, drill a small field in Golden Gate's Ken Maddy Handicap, leaving the team with a potential one-two punch for Dubai.
Stay tuned...

Blanc and Blue
Ask jockey Brice Blanc to single that special horse, the one who still evokes a plethora of emotion. He'll grin, and in his suave, French accent speak one name without thinking twice-- Happyanunoit. These days, however, mention Blue Moon and Blanc's heart is certain to skip a "Happy" beat. It's no wonder.

"She's a tiny little filly," Blanc said, sizing up the two turf belles. "When you see her, she's not like Happyanunoit, but she's got a huge engine. I mean, what a turn of foot."

Whether Blue Moon ever fills the giant shoes of Happyanunoit remains to be seen, but the French-bred daughter of Lomitas took a step in the right direction on Feb. 18, uncorking a super late burst to take the $150,000 Buena Vista Handicap (gr. IIT) at a mile.

The acid test came with a quarter-mile to run. After a relatively easy six furlongs, Blue Moon was all ready to roll, yet she found herself facing a roadblock. Surrounded on all sides, Blanc could only rely on luck. It came. And when Blue Moon finally caught a glimpse of daylight, the Buena Vista was history.

"I was just behind the leaders and waiting for room," Blanc said. "She's got huge acceleration. When I launched her in there, she just exploded."

Indeed. Like a rocket, Blue Moon took off. Queen of Wilshire, the pacesetter, didn't know what hit her. The final margin was a neck. Old Money was a length away in third.

Owned by B. Wayne Hughes, Blue Moon hadn't been seen since last fall's Las Palmas Handicap (gr. IIT), when the then 4-year-old filly emerged from a so-so run with tender feet. Performing best when her races are amply spaced, according to trainer Ron Ellis, the bite-size bombshell will get a chance to stretch her legs farther in the 10-furlong Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. IIT) on April 20. b

At the Wire
A handful tried, but no one could catch Shuffling Kid in the $114,400 Baldwin Stakes (gr. IIIT) down the hillside grass course. Under Pat Valenzuela, the 3-year-old son of Rock City blitzed to a wide lead, then had enough gas to hold off a stampede that included Red Briar, Dark Sorcerer, Roman Dancer, and Holdthehelm. Mike Machowsky trains the British-bred gelding for a partnership...Neil Drysdale has another Derby horse on his hands. Following a similar path as Fusaichi Pegasus two years ago, Sunday Break continues to improve by leaps and bounds. The Japanese-bred son of Forty Niner drew nothing but raves following a first-class allowance win at 11?16 miles on Feb. 22. He is owned by Koji Maeda...One mare conspicuously absent from Santa Anita's top sprints this year is Go Go. The daughter of Falstaff has returned from a brief respite, though, and is all set to resume breezing, according to trainer Warren Stute. "We fired her ankles and turned her out for four months," Stute said. "She'll be ready in May."...Also nearing a comeback is the stalwart Lasersport, who eased through six furlongs in 1:12 and change on Feb. 24. Knocked out by a knee fracture over a year ago, the son of Gilded Time is slated to make his return in the six-furlong Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I) March 23...See that Visa commercial during the Winter Olympics, the one with the Thoroughbred blowing by Michael Johnson and Jason Sehorn? Recognize that guy in the saddle? That was the now-retired rider Corey Black. Meanwhile, Kenny Black, Corey's older brother, took a turn in the spotlight himself Feb. 23, winning his first Santa Anita race in nearly 18 years aboard Hideaway Cafe for trainer Darrell Vienna and owners David and Rita Milch...Best wishes to the dean of the Southern California backstretch, trainer Noble Threewitt, who celebrated his 91st birthday on Feb. 24...Trainer Mike Marlow, a longtime assistant to D. Wayne Lukas, saddled his first runner, Jeremy's Quest on Feb. 23. The filly, owned by his wife, Stacey, won for fun.

(Chart, Equibase)