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Santa Anita bettors salute California Flag

September 25, 2008|Bill Dwyre

Except for Corey Nakatani's broken collarbone, Wednesday was a very good race day at the Great Race Place.

Santa Anita opened to blue skies, smog-free mountains and palm trees barely moving in the 90-degree heat. It was the first day of the Oak Tree meeting, which will lead to a final Oct. 24-25 Brink's Truck weekend, the multimillion-dollar Breeders' Cup.

One horse used the day to qualify for the Breeders' Cup, and it was a horse few expected to do so. Bred in Murrieta and owned by his breeders, Keith and Diane Card, 22-1 longshot California Flag raced down the hill on Santa Anita's famed turf course and right past the rest of the field in the $100,000 Grade III Morvich Handicap. While jockey Joe Talamo eased him up, lucky bettors celebrated their $47.40 payoff.

After his horse won in a course-record time of 1:11.10 for 6 1/2 furlongs, Talamo said, "We had an absolutely perfect trip."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, September 30, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 19 words Type of Material: Correction
Bill Dwyre column: A Sports column Thursday misidentified Barbara Card, the co-owner/breeder of thoroughbred California Flag, as Diane Card.

Keith Card said, "We thought we had a chance because there was no speed in the race."

Now, the Cards, Talamo and trainer Brian Koriner have an unexpected chance in the $1-million Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. The race was one in a series of "Win and You're In" chances that lead to the Breeders' Cup.

"It is $20,000 to enter and $20,000 more to start," Card said. Koriner said they'd pay it and go.

Early in that race, Easy On The Eye, ridden by veteran Nakatani, clipped heels with Ten Meropa, ridden by Tyler Baze. The contact knocked Nakatani off and he suffered a broken collarbone in the fall, probably putting him out of the rest of the Oak Tree meeting.

There was one other misstep in that race, by one of the favorites, Rebellion, ridden by the current hottest jockey around, Peruvian Rafael Bejarano.

"He got to the point where the turf crosses the dirt," Bejarano said, "and he kind of jumped. Once that happens, you are pretty much done."

That was among the few setbacks for Bejarano, who at age 26 has dominated the Southern California riding season like few before. He won the last Santa Anita winter meeting, as well as Hollywood Park's spring/summer and Del Mar's summer meeting of the surf and turf.

Bejarano had mounts in all but one of the nine races Wednesday. He won three times, was second once, third twice and even earned a little of the pot for his owners in the Morvich, with Rebellion coming in fourth. Only in the ninth race, aboard Concerto's Thunder, did he come up short.

"It was a good day," Bejarano said. "Every day is a good day for me."

He was the leading apprentice jockey in Peru in 1999, came to the United States because he was told he was good enough to make it, and did just that. He has already won two Breeders' Cup races, and has ridden in several Triple Crown races. He is challenging Garrett Gomez's spot on the top of the jockey mountain.

"He is quiet on the horse, natural, relaxed," said veteran Alex Solis, who rides against Bejarano daily. "Horses just run for him."

Bejarano lives alone in Pasadena, but calls home to Peru every day. He just purchased a pair of video phones and will send one to his family in Arequipa, Peru, so he can not only hear them when he calls, but see them.

"My mother is there, my father, two sisters and two nieces," he said.

But every indication is he is here to stay, especially after the effort he made recently to learn to speak English.

"Three months, I went to Glendale Community College, so I could learn," he said. "It was Monday through Friday, 6 to 9 every night."

The day ended with increases from last year in two of the three major categories tracks use to measure success. On-track attendance was 17,191, up from last year's opening-day 15,027. The total parimutuel handle, money bet from all sites, including Las Vegas and other tracks, was $7,663,934, up from last year's $6,713,133. The on-track money bet was down, from last year's $2,495,117 to $2,215,994.

One official said that Santa Anita's decision to distribute its collector's beer stein on opening day, rather than on the first weekend, may have boosted the attendance.

The man whose face was on that stein, Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, whose record four Breeders' Cup victories in 2003 were commemorated on the stein, was flattered by the gesture. He also had a sense of humor about their collectors' value.

"I just hope they don't use them for urinals," he said.


Bill Dwyre can be reached at For previous columns, go to

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