Ron Hansen, riding champion at the L.A. County Fair for an unprecedented fourth straight season, didn’t win this year’s title as convincingly as he did last year’s, but he’s going back to Minnesota with something more important than a landslide.
When Hansen rode Artichoke to a 1 3/4-length victory Sunday at Pomona, it was the first winner in a $100,000 race for the 25-year-old Canadian, who began riding when he was 17.
Artichoke’s win was also the 26th of the 18-day season for Hansen as he finished four wins ahead of Panamanian Luis Ortega in the jockey standings. A year ago, Hansen outdistanced Paco Mena, 37-19.
A tip from trainer Jerry Fanning in the paddock might have helped owner-breeder Tom Gentry’s 4-year-old colt win the $120,600 Pomona Invitational Handicap.
“I knew there was a little speed in the trace besides Patrick McFig,” Hansen said. “But just before we went on to the track, Jerry told me to let my horse run, so I got him in position, right behind the speed, right away. I’m glad Jerry told me what he told me. Otherwise, I might have been farther back at the start and maybe we wouldn’t have won.”
If there’s any trainer who knows anything about winning the Pomona Handicap, it’s Fanning. Artichoke gave Fanning his sixth win in the last 10 runnings of the race.
Fanning has won the Pomona three straight times before Fabulous Dad, trained by Mel Stute, won last year’s race. Fabulous Dad finished sixth out of seven horses in Sunday’s race.
Artichoke was running against the best as a younger horse, but physical problems dropped him down a notch in the last year and a half. He won only one race all last year and Sunday’s win was his fourth this year, including two at Pomona. Artichoke captured the Aprisas Handicap at the fair on Sept. 17.
Artichoke, overtaking Patrick McFig in the stretch, covered the distance of about 1 1/8 miles in 1:49 2/5 and paid $6.40, $3.60 and $4 as the slight favorite over Iron Leader.
Last Command, who also rallied through the stretch, got second by a neck over Patrick McFig and paid $4 and $4.60. Patrick McFig’s show price was $5.80. The rest of the order of finish was Apollo Flight, Iron Leader, Fabulous Dad, and Gallant Poleax.
Hansen clinched the riding title the race before the stake when he rode Grey Hill to victory after the 4-year-old colt had broken through the gate prior to the start.
Artichoke earned $76,600--$55,000 from the purse and $21,500 for a Breeder’s Cup award because he’s eligible for those rich races at Aqueduct on Nov. 2. He was the only horse in the field on the Breeder’s Cup list.
“I kidded the other jockeys about that Breeder’s Cup money,” Hansen said. “I told them before we went out there that I was the only guy in the race with a shot at the extra money.”
Hansen will spend a few days vacationing in Las Vegas, then return to the Minneapolis area for the last two weeks of the Canterbury Downs meeting. He was the leading rider at Canterbury when he came to Pomona and said he’s only about four or five wins away from the top spot despite being gone for two weeks.
Ted West wound up as the leading trainer at Pomona with seven wins, one more than David Bernstein.
A crowd of 18,590 Sunday left the fair with a record season attendance of 264,840, which was 9% higher than last year. Betting totaled $45 million, which was also a record and represented a jump of almost 16%.