The harshest critic of Santa Anita's rebuilt turf course is cranking out one grass victory after another at the meet.
When Wandesta won Sunday's $130,550 San Gorgonio Handicap by three lengths, it gave Bobby Frankel four grass victories in seven starts since Santa Anita opened Dec. 26. Frankel hadn't won a dirt race at the track until Saturday, when Igotrhythm's 1:08 2/5 accounted for the fastest six-furlong race of the season.
About 75% of Frankel's horses are grass runners, and after a disastrous Oak Tree meet last fall--two victories in 24 starts--the outspoken trainer lambasted the turf conditions. Frankel thought he proved his point at the ensuing Hollywood Park meet, winning 15 races and a training title, and he elected to train his horses at Hollywood when the Santa Anita winter season began.
Wandesta apparently likes the new turf course at Santa Anita as much as she did the old. Before Sunday, she had been beaten five consecutive times since winning all three starts at Santa Anita last winter, but in the San Gorgonio the 5-year-old British-bred mare and jockey Corey Nakatani were too much for Matiara in the stretch. Wandesta also beat Alpride, the 3-2 favorite who had been a nemesis last year while winning the Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood and the Yellow Ribbon at Santa Anita.
In a six-horse field, Matiara finished second, 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Yearly Tour, and it was another 1 1/2 lengths back to Alpride in fourth place. Wandesta, the third choice, paid $7.20 and ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49. She earned $80,550 for Prince Khalid Abdullah of Juddmonte Farms, which won the 1995 Eclipse Award for best breeder.
Wandesta, with five victories in 15 starts, has earned more than $600,000. She carried 119 pounds in the San Gorgonio, two less than the high weight, Alpride, and one more than Matiara. Frankel was on vacation and his assistant, Humberto Ascanio, saddled Wandesta.
"She's an ultra-tough mare," Nakatani said. "She should have won the Matriarch, but she had trouble and got knocked sideways at one point. She's had trouble in a lot of her races, like getting boxed in. But today, there wasn't any trouble. She was in the right place at the right time."
Nakatani also won the San Gorgonio with Southern Truce in 1993, and he took last year's running with Queens Court Queen. He rode three winners Sunday and has a meet-high total of 18 victories for the first 16 days.
Some of Best Pal's biggest victories have come at Santa Anita--the Norfolk as a 2-year-old, the Strub and the Santa Anita Handicap as a 4-year-old--but the 8-year-old gelding has failed three times in the San Pasqual Handicap, running fourth last year, second in 1994 and getting disqualified from second to fifth by the stewards in 1993.
Best Pal takes another shot at the San Pasqual today. He's the second choice, at 5-2, on the morning line, with Alphabet Soup the 2-1 favorite.
Horse Racing Notes
Bobby Frankel's previous victory in the San Gorgonio came with Extra Hand in 1973, three years after Corey Nakatani was born. . . . Golden Attraction, voted an Eclipse Award as the best 2-year-old filly, will be sidelined for several months after cracking a cannon bone. . . . Cliff Goodrich, president of Santa Anita, said the tracks and a potential sponsor have about a week to reach an insurance deal that would enable Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar to attach a bonus to their three $1- million races. . . . Jockey David Flores, deemed guilty of interference on the first turn while riding High Stakes Player in Saturday's San Fernando Stakes, has been suspended for three days, starting Thursday. High Stakes Player finished eighth.