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Racing at Santa Anita : Blinkers Make the Difference for Timely Assertion--and Very Subtle

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Times Staff Writer

Minutes after Timely Assertion scored an upset win in Saturday’s $126,650 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita, trainer Henry Moreno credited the addition of blinkers for the 3-year-old filly’s improvement.

Trainer Mel Stute may have already outfitted Very Subtle with blinkers for her next race, after the 7-10 favorite, with victory seemingly hers about 45 yards from the finish, was spooked by something, pulled herself up and sent a six-race winning streak down the tubes.

There were several theories regarding Very Subtle’s giveaway, with the man closest to the collapse--jockey Pat Valenzuela--contending that the filly saw the starting-gate crew standing near the outside fence and tried to duck in the opposite direction.

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Running on the inside, Very Subtle was well-removed from the crew, but this was her first start around two turns, and both the horse and the barn will probably benefit from the experience.

Gary Stevens, riding Timely Assertion, not only thought he had a beaten mount in deep stretch, but he also felt his filly wouldn’t even make second.

“I was pulling my stick with my right hand, when suddenly the other filly just backed up into my face,” Stevens said. “Very Subtle started to pull off, then she did her number.”

Valenzuela, who had ridden Very Subtle in five of her six wins, thought she should have won Saturday by two or three lengths.

“My first reaction was that maybe she broke down,” Valenzuela said. “Then when I knew that wasn’t it, I tried to keep her running.

“I think she saw the crew and shied in. I’m not blaming the crew, because they’re always standing there, but it had to cost us about five lengths.”

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In the five-horse field after the scratch of Saros Brig, Timely Assertion won by a neck and paid $28, $6.20 and $2.40 as the second-longest price on the board.

Very Subtle, who hung on to salvage second by a length over My Turbulent Beau, paid $3 and $2.10. My Turbulent Beau paid $2.20.

Whatever the cause, Very Subtle made a $48,000 mistake. Timely Assertion, a gray daughter of Assert and Timely Roman, earned $74,900 for her owner, George Aubin of Houston, more than doubling her pre-race total. Timely Assertion ran the mile in 1:36 4/5, which was three-fifths of a second slower than Life at the Top’s time last year and Saucy Bobbie’s clocking in 1983, the first year the stake was run.

Timely Assertion won her first two starts last fall at Hollywood Park, but then couldn’t reach the winner’s circle when she graduated to stakes company. In the San Ynez at Santa Anita just 1953002085lengths behind Very Subtle.

“She was in trouble every time she raced, and there’s no question that the blinkers today helped,” Moreno said. “I knew she was a runner, it was just that she found a way to lose. She pulled herself up, she was bumped, she broke bad, she stumbled.”

On Saturday, before 38,284 fans who hung around to boo Valenzuela when he came onto the track for the next race, Timely Assertion became the gift horse who was receiving instead of giving.

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“We were very lucky,” Moreno said.

Asked if his filly could have won without Very Subtle’s shenanigans, Moreno tried to be coy. “I didn’t know there was another horse in the race,” he said.

Devil’s Bride knew. Trying to extend a three-race winning streak, she took the early lead, but Valenzuela had Very Subtle right alongside with a half-mile to run, something that didn’t please John Gosden, Devil’s Bride’s trainer.

“Those two fillies cut each other’s throats,” Gosden said.

Valenzuela said he moved early because it was so easy. “My filly was just cruising,” he said. “Rafael (Meza, aboard Devil’s Bride) had to start riding his horse at the three-eighths pole.”

Devil’s Bride finished a tiring fourth.

The win was Stevens’ sixth in a stake this season and, by his count, it came on the first horse he had ridden for Moreno in about a year and a half.

He’s likely to be back aboard Timely Assertion next time, when the weights will be more even than the seven-pound break she got from Very Subtle Saturday.

They’re likely to be even in the blinkers department, too.

Horse Racing Notes

Very Subtle wasn’t the only 3-year-old that cost itself Saturday. Momentus, making his first start since he jumped the fence to destroy the eighth pole at Hawthorne last September, raced tentatively and finished sixth as the 7-10 favorite in the third race. The winner, at 26-1, was Simply Majestic, who gave Bill Shoemaker his second win in as many mounts since his arthroscopic knee surgery on Feb. 3. . . . Wayne Lukas, who trains Simply Majestic, also had a winner at Aqueduct, where Trick Squaw captured the $100,000 Next Move Handicap. . . . Timely Reserve, who broke her maiden at Santa Anita last month, won the $50,000 Vallejo Stakes for trainer Joe Manzi at Golden Gate Fields. . . . Champion Capote’s second workout since he resumed training was a :48 4/5 half-mile at Hollywood Park. . . . In mid-afternoon ceremonies, Don MacBeth received this year’s George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award. MacBeth, who hasn’t ridden since a spill at Aqueduct last spring, was voted the award by jockeys around the country. Thirteen previous winners of the award were present. . . . Apprentice Dave Patton’s 17th win of the season was Northern Provider, who paid $87.80.

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