San Pasqual winner Wooden Phone.

San Pasqual winner Wooden Phone.

Benoit photo

Santa Anita Race Report: Can't Knock Wood

Published in the Jan. 12 issue of The Blood-Horse
So where do we go from here? Tiznow and Point Given, Captain Steve and Aptitude. They're all gone. Lido Palace and Skimming are cooling their heels deep in the comforts of the Bobby Frankel barn. The local handicap division looks ripe for the taking, and following the $200,000 San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II) on Jan. 5, expect nothing but knock-down, drag-out brawls during the coming weeks.

The current king of the unorganized heap is Wooden Phone, best known as the obscurely-bred gelding who shook Tiznow out of his socks a year ago in the Strub Stakes (gr. II). If you still can't picture him, don't worry. You'll be hearing plenty from him in 2002.

Following a season-ending knee injury last summer, the 5-year-old son of Pick Up the Phone has roared back in a big way--and with some new tricks as well. Wooden Phone led all the way in his Strub shocker last year, and most anticipated similar tactics in the 1 1/16-mile San Pasqual. A sidestep start, however, left him hung wide entering the first turn, and with Irisheyesareflying, Red Eye, and Euchre fanned out in front of him, jockey David Flores was never afforded a chance to drop Wooden Phone inside.

Irisheyesareflying, last seen winning the California Cup Classic, led the field to the far turn, where surprisingly, it was Red Eye who launched the first bid. A son of Fly Till Dawn from the barn of Bruce Jackson, Red Eye pushed Irisheyesareflying through six furlongs in 1:10.03, while two lengths behind them, both Euchre and Wooden Phone were having a tough time keeping up.

Red Eye finally put away 'Irish' passing the eighth pole but immediately felt heat to the outside. By now Wooden Phone and Euchre had surfaced, and the Chilean-bred Seinne also joined the fray. With a sixteenth to go, it was anybody's guess. In a desperate finish, Wooden Phone prevailed by a head over Euchre in 1:41.83. Less than a length back were 43-1 Red Eye and Seinne.

At this stage, Wooden Phone is the leading contender for the March 2 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I). Trainer Bob Baffert, though, was noncommittal after the race, mentioning the Donn Handicap (gr. I) and even the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) as viable options as well. Wooden Phone is owned by Jim and Marilyn Helzer and Tom Durant.

Very Affluent
As a daughter of the late Affirmed, Affluent could already bring a small fortune. As a granddaughter of the late Bayakoa, she could rightfully stake a claim as queen of the Ron McAnally stable. But Affluent doesn't need her bloodlines to do her talking for her. She's making her own noise between the rails. On Dec. 29, the most versatile lass in the country put the icing on her season with a last-minute surprise in the $200,000 La Brea Stakes (gr. I) for 3-year-old fillies.

Bred and owned by longtime McAnally patron Jan Whitham, Affluent used the back half of 2001 to show she can do just about anything. Last summer, the 4-year-old chestnut turned in a promising debut on grass, then switched surfaces again and took the grade II Hollywood Oaks for fun. When McAnally tossed her back onto the turf, Affluent traded blows with the talented Golden Apples, dropping a narrow decision in the Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT) then turning the tables in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. IT) at Keeneland.

The seven-furlong La Brea was Affluent's first effort sprinting in nearly a year--and her first battle of any kind in 11 weeks. Neither mattered. An opening half in :44.27 certainly swayed things in Affluent's direction, but not by much. The leaders--Royally Chosen, Above Perfection, and Love At Noon--all managed to hang tough despite the hot pace. Affluent, under Eddie Delahoussaye, nailed them all anyway, closing with purpose to win by an expanding 1 1/2 lengths. Royally Chosen, a 48-1 shot from the Bruce Headley barn, nosed out Love At Noon for second. Ending the year with a pair of grade I triumphs, Affluent will stretch out again in the 8 1/2-furlong El Encino Stakes (gr. II) on Jan. 20.

Double Prize
Irish Prize pulled off a nifty double of his own on Dec. 30, winning the $150,000 San Gabriel Handicap (gr. IIT) for the second time in 2001. And he did it with his typical nail-biting flair.

Bred and owned by Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum's Gainsborough Farm, the son of Irish River began 2001 with a bang, outlasting Manndar by a half-length to take the nine-furlong San Gabriel. It was pretty much the same story throughout the year. The Fastness Handicap (gr. IIIT) by a neck. The Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) by a neck. The Firecracker Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) by a nose. The gelding had a good run of bad luck as the year wound down, but a shot at the San Gabriel put him back on the beam.

Nevertheless, things didn't look too promising at the break. Leaving from post 3, Irish Prize was pinched back hard, forcing jockey Gary Stevens to devise a different plan of attack. Fortunately, Irish Prize is like a watchdog--alert and always ready for action. Unable to press the pace, they lingered in 10th instead before a sweeping move around the bend put them at the leaders' throats.

It wasn't a cakewalk, though. Sligo Bay, brought to you by the same folks who gave you Manndar, bared his teeth when Irish Prize came calling. Irish Prize still held him off. They hit the line a head apart in 1:50.56. Trained by Neil Drysdale, Irish Prize will reappear in the 10-furlong San Marcos Handicap (gr. IIT) on Jan. 21.

And if Irish Prize comes back to take the San Gabriel a year from now, he'll join two other geldings, John Henry and Del Mar Dennis, as the only horses in Santa Anita history to win the same race three times.


(Chart, Equibase)