Looking for a way to bet Smarten Up in Saturday's San Rafael Stakes, most of Santa Anita's horseplayers couldn't come up with a reason other than the jockey's name being Rafael Meza.
Which, for the serious players, is not enough reason to bet. As a result, Smarten Up went off at 60-1 odds, longest price in the field of nine, and the San Rafael came up Rafael--Meza riding the 3-year-old colt to a startling 1-length victory in the $162,500 race before 42,178 fans.
After Meza brought Smarten Up between the favorite, The Rogers Four, and a troubled Stan's Bower in the stretch, the toteboard barely had enough room to accommodate the winner's prices: $123.40, $35.60 and $12.
Laz Barrera, who trains Smarten Up for owner-breeder James Ryan of Mt. Airy, Md., said he couldn't ever remember a horse of his winning at such an outlandish price.
"But this is a colt I've liked all along," Barrera said. "You had to throw his last race out, he raced far back that day when he should have been closer to the lead, where he likes to be."
With Smarten Up, a handicapper would have to throw several races out. In his last start, the Santa Catalina Stakes Feb. 6, he finished last in a field of 11, which included Brecons Charge and Floating Reserve, two of the horses that started Saturday.
The race before that, at Hollywood Park in December, Smarten Up finished sixth as Fast Account, another starter Saturday, won by 3 1/2 lengths. And in November at Hollywood, Smarten Up finished 10th, beating only one horse and trailing by 17-plus lengths.
If there's a common denominator to explain Smarten Up's victory Saturday, it's Meza, and not because the jockey's first name happened to be the same as the name of the race.
"Take a look," said Albert Barrera, Laz's trainer son, "his two best races were at Santa Anita, at a mile, running on the lead, with Meza riding him. If this horse can stay close, he's going to be right there at the end."
Smarten Up ran the mile Saturday in 1:36 1/5, winning $94,500 for Ryan, who raced his sire, Smarten, to six straight stakes wins in 1979 when his trainer, Woody Stephens, wisely avoided Spectacular Bid and the other major horses in the 3-year-old division.
Fast Account, the lesser half of an entry owned by W.R. Hawn, finished second Saturday, paying $4.60 and $3. He was a half-length ahead of Stan's Bower, who hit the rail in the stretch and paid $5.60. The Rogers Four, who had won three straight stakes, loomed behind pace-setting Stan's Bower most of the way and finished fourth. Floating Reserve, who had won the Santa Catalina, had traffic problems and finished sixth.
At the top of the stretch, it looked for a time as though Smarten Up might have trouble getting between The Rogers Four on the outside and Stan's Bower along the rail. But The Rogers Four came out, temporarily giving Smarten Up room, then coming in again and making contact.
"That put me on top of the horse on the rail," Meza said. "He was going both in and out."
Sandy Hawley, who had ridden Smarten Up in his last start, was astride Stan's Bower Saturday.
"At the head of the stretch, I thought we were going to win," Hawley said.
"We would have been right there if he hadn't hit the fence. It's funny, I hit this horse at Golden Gate in his last race (a win in the Golden Bear Stakes), and he didn't duck in at all. This time, he ducked in, I guess because he got tired of me hitting him. Next time, I'll know better."
The Barreras supposedly have First Norman and Spectacular Love, two better 3-year-olds than Smarten Up, in their barn. But both have had physical problems, and First Norman, who has a splint injury, is probably 10 days away from a workout.
Meantime, the plans for Smarten Up are the San Felipe Handicap March 17 and the Santa Anita Derby April 6. With San Rafael Meza back on him.
Horse Racing Notes Laz Barrera has a chance to win another stake today when he saddles Adored in the Santa Margarita Handicap. . . . Interco, who won last year's Santa Anita Handicap, has been retired. "There was a tiny growth in his air passage," trainer Ted West said, "the prognosis of operating on it successfully was not good." David Sofro, who owns Interco, said the horse will be sold. "I'm not a breeding man, I don't own a farm," Sofro said. "I own horses because I like to see them run, and this one's given me a lot of pleasure." . . . Bill Shoemaker said the decision on which horse he'll ride, Lord at War or Greinton, in next Sunday's Big 'Cap probably won't be made until entry time Friday. Chris McCarron, who became available when his Big 'Cap mount, Precisionist, came up with a cough, will get the mount Shoemaker doesn't take. Eddie Delahoussaye will ride Hail Bold King, Whittingham's third starter in the race.
As for Shoemaker, Lord at War is on a four-race streak, but Greinton will carry five fewer pounds. . . . Other likely starters in the Big 'Cap are Gate Dancer, Paris Prince and My Habitony. Trainer Neil Drysdale says he's "on the fence" with Beldale Lear. . . . Savannah Slew, owned by Allen Paulson of Encino and trained by Ron McAnally, won Saturday's Vallejo Stakes at Golden Gate, with Lady's Secret finishing second. . . . Dr. Carter won The Gulfstream Handicap by three lengths over Key to the Moon. Time for a Change was scratched.