Heatseeker was a deserving winner of the Santa Anita Handicap, sitting fourth much of the way and then holding off a late-charging Go Between in the final eighth of a mile. And what a perfect ride by Rafael Bejarano, who I believe is going to become a fixture on this circuit for many years to come.
A few other observations about the 71st running of the Big ‘Cap:
— The on-track crowd of 41,377 just shows that race fans will still come out for big race days and large fields that offer good betting opportunities. Expect another 45,000-50,000 for the Santa Anita Derby on April 5.
— Celtic Dreamin, after Monterey Jazz, was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the race. He’d finished no worse than second in nine career starts going in, but he wound up last in the 14-horse field and never was better than 13th under Alex Solis.
— Monterey Jazz’s fade job was predictable. When he was running opponents’ doors off, the Santa Anita Cushion Track was faster than the 210 Freeway. Now that it’s been renovated and times are slower, it’s playing more like Del Mar than Hollywood Park. Front-runners are finding it very difficult, much like Del Mar’s Polytrack. When he went :46 and change through the first half-mile, the party was over.
— It sounds like Heatseeker’s connections are leaning toward staying home and not going to Dubai for the $6 million World Cup, which would be the correct decision. Keep the 5-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway home, point him toward the Hollywood Gold Cup, Pacific Classic and Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap and then turn him loose in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
— It didn’t surprise me that the Bobby Frankel-trained Champs Elysees ran as well as he did despite never having been off the turf in 13 career races. Frankel would not have put him in the race if he didn’t think he could win, and he might have been a lot closer than his third-place finish if he’d broken alertly and not had to battle traffic problems much of the way. Watch this guy in handicap races the rest of the year.
— Trainer Mike Mitchell, who won the Kilroe Mile on Saturday with Ever a Friend, made an interesting observation in the Directors’ Room. He said he’s a big fan of artificial surfaces because it’s easier for turf horses to make the switch to synthetic tracks than it is for them to go from grass to dirt. He believes it will prolong a lot of their careers.