Rafael Bejarano Heats Up on a Hot Day at Santa Anita
The big opening Saturday to start the Autumn Meet at Santa Anita, like last year, was a scorcher with the mercury reaching the 95-degree mark. Even hotter than the weather was jockey Rafael Bejarano who rode three horses into Breeders' Cup qualification including the intriguing Game On Dude.
Game On Dude, who led most of the last year's Breeders' Cup Classic being ridden by Chantal Sutherland, was overtaken by Drosselmeyer at the last minute. After a disappointing finish in the Pacific Open on Aug. 26, trainer Bob Baffert replaced Sutherland with Bejarano. The moved proved to be the right one. Bejarano rode Game On Dude to a 3 1/4 length victory in the Awesome Again Stakes qualifying for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
"He handles the pressure really well," Baffert commented about Bejarano. "He works really hard and knows these horses better than anyone."
That was just the highlight of what seemed to be a special day with the unveiling of the Zenyatta statue at the track.
There was no doubt that it was a scorcher right in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Even the public relations staff noticed that it was always a scorcher when I come out to the track.
There was more variety in the food trucks this year, and the children's activities with the playground, pumpkin patch and hay bale maze helped keep the kids from being underfoot. Besides it's always nice to be able to buy kimchi fries with marinated pork belly and drizzled with Sriracha at the track, a big improvement over your standard fare of boiled hot dogs and stomach-curdling nachos.
Despite the heat and the overhyped Carmageddon II which scared people into inertia, the 17,565 on-track attendance surpassed the 16,013 that showed up for last year's opening Saturday. In fact it was the largest crowd in the second year of the Santa Anita Autumn Meet. Maybe it was the food trucks. Perhaps it was the children's activities. But most likely it was the races.
The first of the five $250,000 Grade I "Win and You're In" stakes was the Chandelier Stakes for two-year old fillies. With Renee's Queen, Beholder and Contessa's Moment scratched from the field of 11, the morning 4-5 favorite Executiveprivilege not only ran away as a 1-5 favorite at race time but also ran away with the race by 6 1/4 lengths.
"When I saw a lot of scratches in the race, especially the speed, I had no choice but to send her," Bejarano said about getting out the quick lead. He was concerned about getting out to too quick of a lead but, "After the first turn I knew I had so much horse. She was so relaxed."
"She's just a really good filly," Baffert said. "We just got to keep her healthy."
Executiveprivilege is qualified for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
That was the start of what seemed to be an unlikely day for Bejarano considering he was thrown from his horse in the fifth race on Friday on the far turn. He escaped serious injury and was working the horses in the morning and ran all nine races he had planned to run.
"[Bejarano] just got really lucky," Baffert said. "If [the track] would have been synthetic, he probably would have broken a collarbone because it's hard. But this dirt track is soft. He rolled. I think it's safer for jockeys. I think the dirt really saved him."
Santa Anita installed a synthetic track in 2007 before major injuries to horses and severe drainage issues led them to revert back to a dirt track in 2010.
Despite the scare, Bejarano proved he was ready for the races in the first race of the day — he rode the Gary and Mary West owned Code West to a second-place finish behind Title Contender. Perhaps Bejarano's luck was with him as he rode the Wests' juvenile Power Broker to what he deemed a surprising win in the FrontRunner Stakes, qualifying for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
"It was the first time he ran on this track at this distance, and it looked like he loved this track," Bejarano said. "I'm surprised with the way he ran today. He was amazing."
Unfortuntely Bejarano couldn't make it three consecutive races in the Zenyatta Stakes with Amani failing to rally finishing in fifth place. Love and Pride ridden by Martin Garcia won the race that Zenyatta won three straight years when it was known as the Lady's Secret Stakes.
"I let her break, sat, then when it was time to go she just finished the job," rider Martin Garcia said about Love and Pride who qualified for the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.
Include Me Out, who was the morning favorite at 5-2, had a disappointing third-place show. "You just can't win if you're not in front on this track," rider Joe Talamo said.
"Speed's holding, and they didn't go very fast," trainer Ron Ellis said. "But it was good. We'll do better next time."
Marketing Mix won the Rodeo Drive Stakes qualifying for Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.