Corey Nakatani guides Skip to the Stone to victory in Sunday's $100,000 Baldwin Stakes at Santa Anita.

Corey Nakatani guides Skip to the Stone to victory in Sunday's $100,000 Baldwin Stakes at Santa Anita.

Associated Press/Benoit Photo

Santa Anita Race Report (Cont.)

The rain continued to fall in Noah-like proportions all day Feb. 25, possibly due to the rain dance performed by conditioner Mike Mitchell, who proved himself to be not only an accomplished trainer and rainmaker, but a heck of a meteorologist to boot.

A week earlier, Mitchell consulted the long-range weather forecast and liked the potential precipitation it promised, so he decided to enter Skip to the Stone in the 34th rendition of the $110,000 Baldwin Stakes, hoping it would come off the hillside turf course onto the main track. Bingo. "We took a shot that it would come off the grass. By the way this colt moves, it looked like he'd enjoy an off-track," Mitchell said. "He's a sure-footed horse, and broke his maiden last time on a wet track."

Although there had been talk of running the Baldwin in two divisions because of the voluminous number of nominations, no one consulted Mitchell on that plan, which became entirely unnecessary. Of the dozen who ultimately entered, only six made it to the gate. Among the defections were Piccolo Player, who was set to make his stateside debut after three wins in England and a blowout three-furlong work in :34.40 over the Santa Anita turf; Dim Sums, who hit the board in the Hill Rise behind Jamaican Rum and Startac; and Bobby Frankel's Marine, who weathered a troubled trip to finish fourth in the grade III Generous Stakes over the Hollywood Park green in November.

Skip to the Stone, a son of Skip Trial bred in Florida by Brambly Lane Farm, left the gate second-choice by just a few hundred dollars to Trailthefox, who had butted heads with the best 2-year-olds in the country last year. Before flopping in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), Trailthefox had run competitively with Flame Thrower, A P Valentine, Point Given, and Yonaguska. Patrick Biancone was sending the Cal-bred son of Foxtrail out for the first time in 2001.

When the gates sprung, Laffit Pincay sent Flags At Dawn running from the rail. Corey Nakatani was in no mood to wait in the slop with Skip to the Stone, however, and he sailed over the puddles just as his name indicates, gaining the lead over Trailthefox, who was well-placed to his outside. Trailthefox and Delahoussaye pushed the pace and got within a half-length of the leader as the quarter went in :21.64.

Skip to the Stone answered every question his pursuer threw out at him, however, widening on the turn to a one-length advantage, and never allowing him to get closer. Trailthefox was game, but Skip to the Stone was 1 1/2 lengths better at the wire. He pocketed $66,000 on the day, running his lifetime earnings to $93,600 for owners Greystone Racing and Vincenzo Loverso. The victory marked the second Baldwin score for Nakatani, who announced a day earlier he would be leaving the Left Coast shortly to ride at Keeneland in April. Nakatani, a determined and frequent golfer, won the 1996 edition of the race with Sandtrap. The 2001 Baldwin lost its grade III status when it came off the turf. Its graded status could be restored by the American Graded Stakes Committee.

"Maybe we prayed too hard for rain," laughed trainer Mitchell in the winner's circle as the heavens continued to drench those still assembled. "This worked well, because I really didn't want to run him down the hill. If all goes right, we'll try him in the San Felipe (gr. II) March 17. The way he's worked, the more I feel he can go long." The San Felipe is run at 8 1/2 furlongs.

If you see a brown-haired man doing a rain dance at Santa Anita around the middle of March, go up and say hello to Mike Mitchell.

Charming Holiday

The special President's Day card Feb. 19 featured the $150,000 grade II Buena Vista for fillies and mares going a mile on the turf. A field of 11 faced the starter, and on this day, good things came to those who waited. The first four finishers came charging on from the back of the pack in a mad dash for the wire. Prevailing was Nick Cafarchia's Rare Charmer under leading rider Pincay. All Rare Charmer's post-maiden scores had come in allowance or optional claiming company, but the daughter of Slewpy out of the Kennedy Road mare Dancing Road outfinished Elegant Ridge by a half-length. Uncharted Haven was another three-quarters of a length back in third.

Rare Charmer covered the mile in 1:36.67 for trainer Craig Dollase, and her biggest payday of $90,000 gave the 6-year-old a career tally of $432,216 and seven victories in 21 starts. The chestnut was bred in California by her owner, and was coming off a speed-induced tiring seventh-place finish in the restricted Pro or Con Handicap just two weeks before.

As Strawberry Way and Lady At Peace went to the lead and set honest fractions, Pincay had Rare Charmer settled in sixth position. The winners made their three-wide move on the turn and went one path wider coming through the stretch, gaining the lead midway down the straight and out-finishing Elegant Ridge.

"She is a nice mare who tries hard all the time," Pincay noted. "Coming down the stretch I knew she was going to be tough, but when the runner-up came on strong, I thought she was going to go by. Then my mare really responded."

Dollase said he is pointing Rare Charmer toward the March 18 Santa Ana Handicap (gr. IIT).

(Chart, Equibase)