Siphonic, left, stumbles as the gate opened in the Santa Catalina Stakes, won by Labamta Babe.

Siphonic, left, stumbles as the gate opened in the Santa Catalina Stakes, won by Labamta Babe.

AP/Copyright Benoit Photos

Santa Anita Race Report: Major Babe

Published in the Jan. 26 issue of The Blood-Horse
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the betting windows, Bobby Frankel has surfaced with yet another standout. His latest shooter is Labamta Babe, who up and knocked off favored Siphonic in the $150,000 Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II) on Jan. 19.

Granted, the 8 1/2-furlong Santa Catalina will be bookmarked as the race Siphonic blew at the break. Even Frankel kept a realistic outlook in the immediate aftermath.

"I thought with the weight shift that I had a chance," he said, comparing Labamta Babe's 115-pound impost to Siphonic's 123. "And it didn't hurt for him (Siphonic) to get left. I don't know if I'd have beat him if he didn't get left."

For Siphonic backers, the Santa Catalina was a punch to the gut. His stellar juvenile season, a four-race glimpse at a burgeoning star, had convinced many that this was the one to latch onto through the springtime preps. The son of Siphon had placed himself at the top of many Kentucky Derby (gr. I) dope sheets after an authoritative win in December's Hollywood Futurity (gr. I). Understandably, Siphonic's bungled beginning was a most unfortunate kickoff to his 3-year-old campaign.

"He was standing fine, perfect," said Siphonic's jockey, Jerry Bailey. "And he just broke so hard the ground broke out from under him behind. And he tried to regain himself so quick, he stumbled in front, too. By the time he got righted, they were eight or 10 (lengths) in front of him."

Heretofore known for his ability on or near the lead, Siphonic now found himself in uncharted waters early in the Santa Catalina--dead last and alone.

"Going into the first turn, I thought I had very little chance to win," Bailey said. "You just can't give away that much ground. I knew he'd make a race of it, but deep down, I knew that he probably couldn't overcome what he had to."

For those clutching tickets at 1-10, the sight was almost too much to bear. At least Siphonic gave them a thrill...eventually. With a presumably impossible task before them, Bailey allowed Siphonic about three furlongs to get his bearings. Satisfied that the colt was still a willing participant, the rider asked for a little gas leaving the five-eighths pole.

Up ahead, Major Storm and Cottonwood Cowboy had cut out a :47.52 opening half, with Labamta Babe a stalking third to their right. To the surprise of many, though, Siphonic managed to move in on the pack. With a four-wide bid on the curve, he pulled abreast of Labamta Babe. Turning into the stretch, the duo were in lockstep.

Then, just as quickly, they weren't. When they last squared off in the Hollywood Futurity, Labamta Babe found himself on the lead, tactics Frankel knew spelled doom from the outset. Consequently, the son of Skywalker had no punch left when Siphonic finally came calling.

In the Santa Catalina, the strategy was altered. Parked on the outside under Kent Desormeaux, Labamta Babe tracked the leaders throughout, and when Siphonic finally showed up passing the quarter pole, Desormeaux stepped on the pedal.

Instantly, Labamta Babe sped away, leaving Siphonic in his dust. He reached the wire 5 1/2 lengths clear, and those who watched closely saw him gallop out like a million bucks. The final time was 1:42.50.

For a brief moment, Bailey had hope Siphonic could fight on. It was, however, too much to ask--at least on this particular day. While Labamta Babe kicked clear, Bailey instead brought Siphonic in safe and sound, three lengths in front of Cottonwood Cowboy. Though he appeared none the worse for wear the following morning, his trainer, Dave Hofmans, mentioned that the aftereffects of Siphonic's poor start could be latent.

"That's our major concern now," he said from his Hollywood Park base. "But we were lucky. He ran a good race after that. We're very happy."

Even more thrilled were Labamta Babe's owner, Ed Gann, and his wife, Bernice. Gann acquired the colt privately last fall and now has one of the leading West Coast 3-year-olds. The road to Louisville, according to Frankel, may keep Labamta Babe in California for the time being, with the March 17 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at 8 1/2 furlongs the next intended target. More than likely, Siphonic will be there as well.

Affluent Continues
Taisez Vous did it back in 1978. Mitterand turned the trick in 1985. Now, Affluent stands at the threshold of becoming just the third horse in Santa Anita history to sweep the prestigious La Canada series for 4-year-old fillies.

Bred and owned by Janis Whitham and trained by Ron McAnally, the reliable daughter of Affirmed came through yet again on Jan. 20, braving the relentless Royally Chosen in the $150,000 El Encino Stakes (gr. II) at 1 1/16 miles. Undoubtedly, it was the grittiest performance of her young career.

Things really heated up for Affluent turning for home. With the outside routes occupied, jockey Eddie Delahoussaye opted to skirt the rail, sending Affluent through a narrow path inside of the front-running Royally Chosen. Alex Solis, however, maintained a hard line with Royally Chosen, keeping Affluent in tight. Undaunted, however, Affluent persisted.

It was classic race riding by Solis matched against typical Delahoussaye confidence. Naturally, it produced a moment to remember. With two Hall of Famers--one current, one future--in the saddle, Affluent and Royally Chosen raced the final sixteenth on even terms. They hit the finish a nose apart in 1:42.60.

With both the La Brea Stakes (gr. I) and El Encino safely put away, Affluent will shoot for the hat trick on Feb. 9 in the nine-furlong La Canada Stakes (gr. II). Royally Chosen, the bridesmaid both times, should be right there with her.


At the Wire
Affluent wasn't the only bright light of Ron McAnally's week. The Hall of Fame trainer also gave us our first peek at Old Money on Jan. 16. The Australian-bred mare was convincing in her stateside debut, taking a one-mile allowance race on grass. She is owned by Robert and Janice McNair...If El Cielo is the king of Santa Anita's downhill turf course, then Malabar Gold is the heir apparent. Shrugging off a nine-month respite, the son of Unbridled notched another one on Jan. 17, his effort sharp enough to earn him a crack at the $300,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (gr. IIT) on March 2, according to trainer Ron Ellis. The 5-year-old is owned by B. Wayne Hughes...Easy Grades has a definite future on turf for owner Scott Guenther. The 3-year-old son of Honor Grades looked like a pro on Jan. 17, breaking his maiden by three lengths going a mile on the grass. He comes from the Ted H. West stable...Jockey Iggy Puglisi, badly injured in a Dec. 29 spill at Los Alamitos, should be back in action by late April, according to his agent, Richie Silverstein.
(Chart, Equibase)