Millennium Wind, a $1.2 million son of Crytoclearance, took a major step towards the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 7 with a hard-earned half-length victory over 31-1 outsider Palmeiro in Sunday's $107,700 Santa Catalina Stakes at Santa Anita Park.Ridden by Chris McCarron, who won three stakes races at Santa Anita over the weekend, Millennium Wind covered 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.38. The 3-year-old Kentucky-bred colt paid $3.20 as the favorite in the field of six and earned $64,620 for owners David and Jill Heerensperger of Seattle, Washington."This was a big step forward," trainer David Hofmans said after the race. "He's pretty professional. Now we're getting excited. I really didn't turn the screws on him -- I'll wait two months." Hofmans said Millennium Wind's next start would "probably" be in the March 17 San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles. "Then we'll weigh where everybody is and what everybody is doing."
Millennium Wind broke well and settled into third behind 14-1 pacesetter Coke's Tribute, ridden by Laffit Pincay Jr., and Palmeiro, with Kent Desormeaux aboard his only mount of the day. The favorite, on the outside, battled head and head with Palmeiro through the stretch and outfinished his rival in a game effort. Millennium Wind carried 114 pounds to Palmeiro's 117. Denied, Coke's Tribute, Turnberry Isle and Indy Lead completed the order of finish. Swordfish was a late scratch.
"There was no cause for concern," McCarron said. "He kind of hopped in the air at the break, but he got in the race immediately. He's got good speed, and I elected to try and get him to stalk because the main speed horse in the race (Coke's Tribute) was coming off of sprints and stepping up in class. And I didn't want to go head and head around the first turn with a horse that appeared on paper to be outclassed. I'm very pleased with this horse's progress. He's going in the right direction and I'm sure David's got to be ecstatic."
Millennium Wind has two wins from three starts. His only defeat, by one length, came at the hands of last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up, Point Given, in the grade I Hollywood Futurity last Dec. 16.
The last two Santa Catalina winners, The Deputy last year and General Challenge in 1999, went on to win the Santa Anita Derby, a major steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby on May 5.
McCarron also won Saturday's features, the San Marcos Stakes aboard Bienamado and the Santa Ynez Stakes on Golden Ballet. McCarron has won four of the last five runnings of the Grade II Santa Catalina. He is Santa Anita's third all-time stakes winner with 221 victories. McCarron has won 11 races through 21 days of Santa Anita's 83-day meet, six of them stakes.