The $200,000 Palos Verdes Handicap (gr. II) on Jan. 28 was supposed to give us a chance to once again witness the wonder that is Kona Gold. When trainer Bruce Headley pondered the gelding's 126-pound impost and its potential long-term effects, however, the Java Gold gelding was kept under wraps, waiting for another day. Kona Gold's last-minute withdrawal prevented a third straight Palos Verdes confrontation with Big Jag. Still looking like a million bucks at age eight, Big Jag turned in his usual reliable effort anyway, but it was another oldtimer, Men's Exclusive, who beat him to the punch. The fact there's still life in Men's Exclusive's 8-year-old legs manifests his intrinsic class as well as the faith of trainer Wesley Ward and owner/breeder Gene Reed. The battles Men's Exclusive has waged with complaining feet would have caused most others to crumble. It was a change in strategy, though, that brought the gelded son of Exclusive Ribot back from oblivion. "Yeah, he likes that now," said jockey Laffit Pincay Jr., commenting on Men's Exclusive's newfound affinity for late-running tactics. "We used to send him all the time, but now he's gotten better." As expected, El Conejo Handicap (gr. III) winner Freespool was the one to catch, but even his lickety-split half in :44.38 couldn't shake either Men's Exclusive or Blade Prospector. The son of Geiger Counter still held on until the sixteenth pole, where Men's Exclusive finally collared him. Big Jag, the '99 Palos Verdes winner and runner-up to Kona Gold last year, showed up late to make it interesting, but Men's Exclusive was never really threatened. They finished three-quarters of a length apart in 1:08.33, with Freespool the same margin back in third. And so a pair of 8-year-olds completed the exacta in a graded stakes race, believed to be a first in track history. More importantly, though, the Palos Verdes set the stage for even bigger matters. Ward is licking his lips at the mere mention of the $2-million Dubai Golden Shaheen, a straight six-furlong dash the trainer is convinced Men's Exclusive will relish. It would also mean another showdown with Big Jag, winner of last year's desert sprint.
Sweeping Move<.b>Though he just missed in the Palos Verdes with Big Jag, jockey Kent Desormeaux came from nowhere with 13-1 Nany's Sweep to zap Serenita in the $200,000 Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) the day before. Though the ride was seamless, Desormeaux steadfastly deflected the praise, turning the attention instead on trainer Kathy Walsh. "When I ride for her," he explained, "I don't care who she puts me on, I ride with so much confidence because she's a good trainer -- period. She had the horse ready." Of course, Nany's Sweep has always had the tools to do something big and bright. Yet when owner Syd Belzburg sent her over to the Walsh barn early last year, the daughter of End Sweep had a reputation of falling short when the stakes were highest. As it turned out, a little instruction and a lot of patience has made all the difference. "This filly's become a better filly since she's learned to rate and relax," said Walsh. "We've kind of slowed up her works, and she's turned herself into a late-closing sprinter." Still, there was really no reason to think Nany's Sweep could make much of a dent in the Santa Monica, especially with Surfside lined up to her immediate left in the gate. But the wet Santa Anita oval had nearly been Surfside's undoing a year ago, and by the time the Seattle Slew filly had reached the far turn of the seven-furlong Santa Monica, jockey Pat Day knew she was in trouble. While Serenita led a swarm of pursuers through an opening quarter in :21.75, Nany's Sweep was well out of contention. Nevertheless, Desormeaux had an eye towards the leaders, and he knew things were cooking. "When they're in front of Theresa's Tizzy," he said, "you know they're goin' too fast." Serenita's :44.27 half left Surfside, Hookedonthefeelin, New Heaven, and Theresa's Tizzy reeling, and turning for home, the Southern Halo filly had opened up by four lengths. Nany's Sweep, however, had uncorked her run leaving the backstretch. When she cornered inside of Theresa's Tizzy, then rolled by Surfside at the eighth pole, Serenita's strides were suddenly numbered. "When she got outside, she cut," Desormeaux said. "She exploded. If she maintained that speed, she was gonna win." Just as Honest Lady moved in on Kalookan Queen in last year's Santa Monica, Nany's Sweep came at Serenita like a tornado. She nailed her just yards from the wire, drawing away to win by a length. Surfside, running on raw talent alone, held onto third, three lengths behind Serenita. Though occasionally sent long earlier in her career (she sports a third-place finish behind Smooth Player and Excellent Meeting in the grade II Hollywood Oaks), Nany's Sweep seems to have found a home at the longer end of the sprint spectrum. "I think she's a very good one-turn filly," Walsh said. "I wouldn't object to running her a mile going one turn, but I don't think I'm going to put her around two turns anymore. I think they tried to make her into a route filly, and I think it took away a little of her ability." Now her ability can't be denied.