The fascination about a filly trying to beat males has pumped much-needed life into the 56th Santa Anita Derby, which lost two marquee horses when Corby was sent to Kentucky and River Special was injured.
Corby's owner, Allen Paulson, also owns Eliza, who Saturday will try to join Ciencia (1939), Silver Spoon (1959) and Winning Colors (1988) as the only fillies to win the Santa Anita Derby. Eliza will be the 15th filly to run in the race.
Because of her modest size and speed-favoring bloodlines, many Santa Anita horsemen give Eliza little chance of beating males at 1 1/8 miles. When post positions for the $500,000 race were drawn Thursday, Alex Hassinger Jr. found himself defending what has largely been an owner's decision to run Eliza Saturday.
Trainer John Sadler, who trains Corby for Paulson, is preparing that colt to run in the $500,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland a week from Saturday. Corby, winner of the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 14, when he beat Personal Hope and Devoted Brass, would have been favored Saturday if he hadn't been shipped out of town.
Personal Hope, who finished second to Corby, ending a three-race winning streak, has been made the 9-5 favorite Saturday by Santa Anita linemaker Jeff Tufts.
Here is the seven-horse lineup in post-position order, with jockeys and morning-line odds: Personal Hope, Gary Stevens, 9-5; Union City, Chris McCarron, 4-1; Gavel Gate, Eddie Delahoussaye, 8-1; Eliza, Pat Valenzuela, 5-2; Earl of Barking, Alex Solis, 20-1; Only Alpha, Goncalino Almeida, 30-1, and Devoted Brass, Kent Desormeaux, 7-2.
As a filly, Eliza will carry 117 pounds, five less than the other starters.
Because of the quality of California racing and the stake's timing, four weeks ahead of the Kentucky Derby, the Santa Anita Derby has been a successful prep for Churchill Downs. Eleven Kentucky Derby winners have come from the Santa Anita Derby, four of them in the 1980s. Two other recent Santa Anita Derby winners--A.P. Indy and the Paulson-owned Dinard--would have been favored in the Kentucky Derby if injuries hadn't knocked them out of the race.
The last two filly winners of the Santa Anita Derby ran well in the Kentucky Derby. Winning Colors became the third female winner of the Triple Crown race in 1988 and Silver Spoon finished fifth, less than four lengths behind the winner, Tomy Lee, in 1959.
Winning Colors was a strapping filly, however--much bigger than Eliza. "Winning Colors was big enough that she could intimidate the other horses," said Wayne Lukas, who trained her.
Lukas also trained Mt. Livermore, Eliza's sire, who was a stakes-winning sprinter in 1985.
"Being a Mt. Livermore (offspring) is a cloud (over Eliza)," Lukas said. "It's not a plus."
Eliza has won five of six starts and is on a four-race winning streak. She won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in October, clinching the 2-year-old filly title, and began her 3-year-old season with an easy victory in the Santa Anita Oaks on March 7.
"I am concerned about her (Mt. Livermore) pedigree," Hassinger said. "But her dam is Daring Bidder, and she produced Dinard, who could run all day long, so I'm hoping that this will balance it out. You need a superb kind of filly to beat the boys, and I think she is. She's not big, but she's stout, and she doesn't believe she's a filly. She's coming off a winning race in a quick time, and the way she's been training, I think she can move up five to eight lengths."
Horse Racing Notes
Devoted Brass' owner had to pay a $20,000 supplemental entry fee for the Santa Anita Derby. . . . First post Saturday is at noon, with the Santa Anita Derby, the fifth race, scheduled to be run at 2:43 p.m.
Other Kentucky Derby preps Saturday are the Remington Park Derby and the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. . . . The John Ed Anthony-owned entry of Marked Tree and Dry Bean is the 5-2 favorite at Remington, with El Atroz, the California shipper, listed at 3-1 on the morning line in a nine-horse field. . . . Another of Anthony's horses, Ozan, is running against eight rivals in the Gotham. Strolling Along, a dud after winning the Belmont Futurity last fall, is making his first start as a 3-year-old.
A Superior Court judge in Sacramento ruled Thursday in favor of Harvey Furgatch in his freedom-of-information suit against the California Horse Racing Board. Furgatch, a horse owner and former chairman of the racing board, had asked the court to open up the board's records to the public. The ruling means that the board cannot keep confidential the names of trainers whose horses test positive by the state laboratory. Previously, the board could withhold the trainers' names until their horses' urine samples were tested by a second lab. Furgatch said the judge also ruled that the racing board must pay the legal expenses he incurred in pursuing the suit.