Published in the Jan. 5 issue of The Blood-Horse
Ah, the joys of winter vacation. Time to enjoy a rest, visit the family and have a few laughs, and recharge the batteries in anticipation of a prosperous new year. For the first--and most likely only--time in California, racing took a much-needed break. But not even eight blissful days off could break the routine. Amidst calendar-picture weather, a crowd of 27,713 marched forward on Dec. 26 to take in Santa Anita's seasonal opener, and there, standing front and center yet again, was Bobby Frankel, placing perhaps the final bow on his gift-wrapped year following Mizzen Mast's clear-cut triumph in the $200,000 Malibu Stakes (gr. I) in 1:22.13. "I'll give you some terminology I learned in New Orleans this weekend," said energized jockey Kent Desormeaux, fresh from a down-home family fiesta. "When I asked him to run, he popped a wheelie, he took off so fast." There was no word whether Mizzen Mast left any skidmarks. But his manhandling of a good Malibu field served notice there's a new force to be reckoned with from the Frankel stable. This one, however, is now a threat on both surfaces. A son of Cozzene bred and owned by Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms, Mizzen Mast arrived from France this past summer sporting a decent record and enough raves to make him the favorite in the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT). His U.S. debut was a rude one, however, as the soggy Arlington sod proved too much to overcome. Mizzen Mast ended up 10th, then threw in a stinker three weeks later in the Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT). After defeating Momentum, who later won the Native Diver Handicap (gr. III), in a restricted turf stakes at Hollywood Park, Mizzen Mast looked like a prime candidate for the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT). That is, until the rain came down. Frankel wisely kept the colt in the barn. "That's when I decided I'd try him on the dirt," said Frankel. "Because he does like firm ground." Denon, another Frankel standout, won the Derby anyway. Mizzen Mast, on the other hand, headed for the seven-furlong Malibu with a résumé devoid of both dirt and sprint experience. It didn't matter. A bad break, however, nearly ruined the whole experiment. "He fell on his head. The ground tore out from underneath him, he broke so hard," Desormeaux said. "He would have been in front if his feet grabbed the soil." Instead, Mizzen Mast found himself in mid-pack down the backstretch, chasing a hot pace furnished by Brainy, Giant Gentleman, and Mo Mon. When Desormeaux finally found a clear path turning for home, Mizzen Mast was ready. The strike was quick, and only Giant Gentleman offered any resistance. Still, it wasn't enough. The final margin was 2 1/2 lengths. I Love Silver, last with three furlongs to run, posed a threat in mid-stretch but wound up third, a neck behind Giant Gentleman. Among the vanquished were graded stakes winners Yonaguska, Discreet Hero, Early Flyer, Until Sundown, Griffinite, and Scorpion. "He ran unbelievable," Frankel said afterward. "Leaving the gate I was cursing because he stumbled so badly. I thought I had no chance when I was back there that far. Never did I expect him to finish that good." Not many did. Mizzen Mast returned $16 in his first go-round on dirt, while 2-1 favorite Early Flyer phoned in his race and finished an uncharacteristic eighth. More importantly, the roan has now cut to the front of a line of upstart 4-year-olds of 2002 waiting to take a crack at the nine-furlong Strub Stakes (gr. II) on Feb. 2. Those with similar visions a year ago knew there was a Horse of the Year standing in the way. This year, there is no Tiznow in the bunch, and with the West Coast's handicap division running a tad light nowadays, perhaps there is a star among them waiting to be born. More insight will be gleaned on Jan. 12, when Mizzen Mast meets Momentum again, this time in the San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II). Some, though, are already convinced. "I think he proved today, turf or dirt, it doesn't matter," said Desormeaux. "He's just a racehorse." KEEPING SCORE That's it. They got 'em all. For the duration of the year, the local jockeys' standings have been owned by just two men--Alex Solis and Laffit Pincay Jr. When Hollywood Park's autumn meeting concluded on Dec. 17, things were no different. Here's a look at how they fared throughout 2001: Santa Anita winter/spring meet--Pincay was easily the champ, 10 winners clear of Tyler Baze (Solis finished fourth). Hollywood summer meet--Pincay by one over Solis. Del Mar--Solis over Pincay, 36-34. Oak Tree--Pincay 33, Solis 31. Solis clinched Hollywood's autumn title early, clearing Desormeaux 30-25 by meet's end. Pincay was third with 23. Throw in Martin Pedroza's championship at Fairplex Park--his third straight--and the year was a clean sweep for the "Boys of Panama." And whenever it's closing day, look to Lake William to send any meet off in style. Winner of the San Simeon Handicap (gr. IIIT) on Santa Anita's final card last April, the son of Salt Lake served up his late-inning heroics again on Dec. 17, taking Hollywood's 5 1/2-furlong Dayjur Handicap. Owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, 5-year-old Lake William ran down Texas Glitter to win by a length. He comes from the barn of Richard Mandella. Bob Baffert whipped the competition in the trainers' division, his 22 winners an all-time record for the Hollywood autumn meet. AT THE WIRE The Malibu gave trainer Bobby Frankel his 49th stakes win of the year. Eighteen of them came in grade I races...The Santa Anita crowd tucked their free opening day calendars beneath their arms and gave jockey Pat Valenzuela a warm welcome-back ovation prior to the afternoon's fourth race. On his first ride back, the 39-year-old jockey promptly finished second, then went unplaced on his other two mounts. Valenzuela's book is being handled by Nick Cosato...After getting clobbered in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), Orientate got his bearings, switched to turf, and came out running in the one-mile Sir Beaufort Stakes for 3-year-olds Dec. 26. Owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis, the son of Mt. Livermore beat Sigfreto by two lengths. D. Wayne Lukas is his trainer...Werblin threw his name into the Triple Crown mix with a snappy effort going six furlongs. A winner in his career debut last July, the 2-year-old son of Unbridled's Song went the distance in 1:09.04. Eduardo Inda trains the unbeaten colt for Aaron and Marie Jones...Trainer Mike Puype has returned to California with a handful of Cobra Farm runners, and he got things rolling on opening day with the fittingly named Woody Haze (Woodman--Buckeye Gal). The 3-year-old colt looked sharp taking a nine-furlong allowance on grass. He is owned by Gary Biszantz.