On Jan. 1, Freespool got his chance to turn the trick in the $109,500 El Conejo Handicap (gr. III) at 5 1/2 furlongs. A latent hoof bruise, however, rendered the Geiger Counter speedster a shadow of his usual swift self. Instead, the El Conejo went to Overbrook Farm's Snow Ridge. Ridden by Mike Smith, the 4-year-old Tabasco Cat colt left 'em behind on the turn, drawing away strongly to beat Explicit and Rio Oro by 3 1/2 lengths, giving trainer D. Wayne Lukas his 100th stakes win at Santa Anita. Snow Ridge has shown periodic brilliance during his short career, a win in last September's Kentucky Cup Sprint (gr. II) last fall his highlight so far. That was at six furlongs, the same distance he'll see when he faces stablemate Yonaguska and Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) winner Squirtle Squirt in the Palos Verdes Handicap (gr. II) on Jan. 27. While Snow Ridge will stay near the shorter end of the sprint spectrum, the $118,150 Monrovia Handicap (gr. IIIT) down the hillside grass course was just a warm-up for Paga. Owned by Ed Allred and R.D. Hubbard, the daughter of Montreal Marty made a splash in her stateside debut at Del Mar, but a foot problem kept the Argentinean filly out of action following a run in the Violet Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Meadowlands. If the Monrovia is any indication, though, Paga will be one tough cookie come this spring's middle-distance turf races. With Smith aboard, Paga took command in midstretch, dusting her 12 rivals by 1 1/4 lengths. Trainer Richard Mandella mentioned the one-mile Buena Vista Handicap (gr. IIT) as the next logical step. This time last year, trainer Jenine Sahadi unleashed Golden Ballet on the world. The rest of us just stood back and felt the warmth of the glow. Now, Sahadi's back with another promising filly, and so far, Bella Bella Bella has done nothing to quash any optimism. The 3-year-old daughter of Soft Gold took her game to a new level on Jan. 6, covering two turns with aplomb in the $105,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes (gr. III). Owned by Team Valor, Bella Bella Bella fought off Tamarack Bay throughout the stretch to win by a neck. She's now unbeaten in three starts. It's been almost five years since Free House took owners John Toffan and Trudy McCaffery on a whirlwind ride through the classics. Now they're back with another son of Smokester who may just take them down the Triple Crown trail once again.
There is no way to predict whether Earl of Danby will ever measure up to Free House, but he's certainly off to a good start. The homebred colt served up another ace on Dec. 28, easing through seven furlongs to take the $150,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes by a length. Now two-for-two sprinting, Earl of Danby comes from the Paco Gonzalez barn. Earlier that afternoon, the fillies' division of the California Breeders' Champion Stakes went to Gordon Severson's Lady George. Winner of the Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies last November, the daughter of Lake George scored by 1 1/2 lengths for trainer Tony Locke. A $2,500 buy, Lady George has now earned more than $220,000. In other Cal-bred action, Phaenna, a 7-year-old Frankly Perfect mare, won the 5 1/2-furlong Survive Stakes for owners Curt and Lila Lanning and trainer Ed Moger Jr. At the Wire
Bill Spawr has gotten off to a flying start at Santa Anita. The 62-year-old trainer sent out nine winners during the first nine days of the meet, and not surprisingly, eight of them were ridden by his go-to guy, Laffit Pincay Jr. The most eye-catching of the bunch was first-timer Got the Message. Bred and owned by the Jacoby Family Trust, the Memo colt won by four lengths going 6 1/2 furlongs on Dec. 29. He's a half-brother to the lightning-quick Enjoy the Moment...Trainer Bob Baffert followed up Wooden Phone's score one day later by taking the Hill Rise Stakes with Mountain Rage at a mile on the turf. The son of Mecke, co-owned by Baffert's fiancée, Jill Moss, and George Jacobs, won the Generous (gr. IIT) at Hollywood Park in November...Jockey Garrett Gomez turned 30 on New Year's Day and got a win himself aboard Craig Dollase's talented sprinter Beaumes de Venise...After launching his latest comeback on opening day, jockey Pat Valenzuela broke through with his first winner on Dec. 31...At Hollywood Park, trainer David Hofmans sent Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) winner Siphonic a smooth five-eighths the morning of Jan. 2. The son of Siphon is slated to make his seasonal debut in the Jan. 19 Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II) at 1 1/16 miles...While Siphonic is the current king of the 3-year-old heap, Hot Contest may be one to watch for down the line. After a pair of autumn defeats at Hollywood, the son of Tabasco Cat sprang to life and surprised a strong field of maidens going 8 1/2 furlongs on Dec. 30. Ray Bell trains the colt for owners Bob and Beverly Lewis. Keep your eyes open for runner-up Strive, a Deputy Minister colt from the Bob Baffert barn, as well as third-place Distinction, a $4.2-million son of Seattle Slew trained by D. Wayne Lukas ...A race later, trainer Bobby Frankel blew the dust off of Lord Flasheart, and the 5-year-old looked like he never skipped a beat. Making his first start in nearly 18 months, the son of Blush Rambler looked sensational taking a one-mile grass allowance and should be making some stakes noise in no time. Edmund Gann is his owner...Habibti and You may be locks in the approaching stakes for 3-year-old fillies, but trainer Mike Mitchell might hook them down the line with Stonebridge Lady. The daughter of Honour and Glory clobbered maidens by seven lengths going a mile on Dec. 28. She is owned by Michael House.