When Rafael Meza is involved in a photo finish, the 27-year-old Mexican jockey says he almost always can tell whether his horse has won or lost.
When Meza and Balcony Pass hit the wire at about the same time as Pat Valenzuela and Eagle's Magic Saturday in the $119,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes at Santa Anita, Meza thought he had won.
Coming back for the unsaddling, however, Meza was greeted by Balcony Pass' trainer, Bruce Headley, who thought that they hadn't caught Eagle's Magic at the line.
"That got me worrying," Meza said. "The two horses were far apart--the other horse was near the rail, and my filly was out in the middle of the track. After listening to Bruce, I thought that maybe I hadn't judged the wire right."
He's right, he's wrong, he's right. Meza, it turned out, had more than a nose to spare--he had Balcony Pass' neck, the winning margin that was the difference between $74,500 for the win and $20,000 for second to owner Knute Qvale.
Headley had been wrong once before with Balcony Pass. He ran her for a $32,000 claiming price in the first race of her life at Santa Anita last October, and she won by almost two lengths with no takers at the claim box.
"When she turned out to be just a blur on the replay of that race, we decided to try her in this one," said Headley, who remembered running another foal from Pass the Glass, Bargain Balcony, for a claiming price and then moving him into stakes competition.
Eagle's Music had also won her only previous start, a seven-length victory at Hollywood Park two weeks ago. And Saturday, before a crowd of 36,431, she was sent off as the 5-2 favorite against 11 other California-bred 2-year-olds.
Valenzuela rode Eagle's Music the same way Saturday as he had at Hollywood, winging it out of the gate. Eagle's Music led by about five lengths at one point, but the seven-furlong stake was an eighth of a mile longer than her debut.
"I thought we were going to win," Valenzuela said. "But I felt her weakening through the stretch, and then she just couldn't hold off the other filly."
Timed in 1:23 4/5, Balcony Pass paid $21.80, $8.80 and $6. The other prices were $5.40 and $4.80 for Eagle's Music and $7 for Silent Arrival, who also closed quickly.
Balcony Pass was 13 lengths behind Eagle's Magic at one point and still had six horses to beat coming into the stretch. Meza had saved ground next to the rail, but he would have been blocked by four or five horses in front him if he hadn't swung Balcony Pass outside.
Horse Racing Notes
Bruce Headley doesn't start as many horses as some trainers but still finishes high in the Santa Anita standings. Last fall at Oak Tree, he ranked third with 9 winners in 34 starts; at the last Santa Anita meeting, he finished 10th with 19 winners from 94 races and had 55% of his runners finish in the money. . . . Fast Account, second in the Santa Anita Derby, fourth in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Belmont Stakes this year, hadn't raced since June 8. His last race had been the 1 1/2-mile Belmont. Running on Saturday in a six-furlong race at Santa Anita, Fast Account returned with an impressive come-from-behind win. . . . Trainer Wayne Lukas picked up his 70th stakes win of the year Saturday when North Sider won the Bay Meadows Debutante. . . . Fifty Six Ina Row has a bruised heel that's keeping him out of today's Palos Verdes Handicap. Undefeated Phone Trick is shooting for his sixth straight win, and Debonaire Junior, winless since April, is trying to bounce back from being the beaten favorite in three of his last four starts. . . . Clearway, the favorite in the first race, broke down in the stretch and had to be destroyed. . . . With no Pick Six winner in three days, the carry-over pool going into today's card is $665,613.74, a record at Santa Anita. There were 16 tickets Saturday with five winners, worth $22,271.60 each.