Racing at Santa Anita : Mi Preferido Survives Long Stretch Run to Win by a Head

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

The $228,200 San Fernando, Santa Anita’s first major race of the season, was such an enigma that six Daily Racing Form handicappers made their selections and none of them picked the same horse.

There wasn’t a starter in the 12-horse field that didn’t have a hole in his record, and Mi Preferido actually had two. He had broken poorly in his last two starts and he didn’t have the look of a horse who could win at 1 1/8 miles.

But Mi Preferido broke smartly Sunday, took the early lead while not being pushed for the first half-mile and then outran Speedratic in a long stretch drive to win by a head before 37,115 fans.


A 12-horse race wound up a two-horse race. Perceive Arrogance nosed out Claim to take third, 4 1/2 lengths behind the winner. Perceive Arrogance is trained by Albert Barrera, the son of Mi Preferido’s trainer, Laz Barrera.

Oraibi, who won the Malibu Dec. 26 and the only San Fernando starter with a victory in his last race, ran just behind Mi Preferido for a half-mile before struggling home in 11th place.

Mi Preferido, ridden by Chris McCarron, was the second choice behind the 4-1 Perceive Arrogance and paid $10.20, $6.60 and $4.80.

Speedratic, under Gary Stevens, paid $9.20 and $7 and Perceive Arrogance, ridden by Jose Santos, returned $3.40.

The older Barrera has always been high on Mi Preferido, once saying that he was his best Triple Crown horse since Affirmed, who swept the series in 1978.

But Mi Preferido came out of last year’s Santa Anita Derby with a sore back and the condition worsened after the Arkansas Derby, forcing him to miss the Triple Crown races.

Mi Preferido was third in the Santa Anita Derby and fifth in Arkansas, and hadn’t won in almost 7 months when he captured the Yankee Valor Handicap at Santa Anita in October.

After that, the horse became a gate problem. He didn’t break sharply in the Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood Park, finishing fifth as Speedratic won the stake. Then the ground broke out from under Mi Preferido in the Malibu, and still he ran fourth, only a length behind Oraibi.

Barrera described the bad habit Mi Preferido had developed in the gate.

“He liked to relax against the back of the gate,” the trainer said. “Today we had the man (the assistant starter) keep his head in front.”

Although Mi Preferido broke from the No. 1 stall, McCarron felt that the rest of the field was loaded quicker Sunday than it was in the Malibu. Mi Preferido broke from the No. 2 hole in a 13-horse field the last time.

“In the Malibu, he was in there over a minute and he fell asleep,” McCarron said. “Today I moved him around while we waited for the others and he came out like a shot.”

Mi Preferido, carrying 123 pounds, three more than Speedratic, was timed in 1:47 2/5, which was three-fifths of a second slower than the stakes record. He earned $138,200, giving the son of Island Whirl and Exacting Lady a total of $582,875 for Barrera and the horse’s co-owner, Amin Saiden.

Speedratic, after breaking slowly, might have briefly nosed ahead of Mi Preferido at the head of the stretch.

“Neither Chris nor me asked our horses to run until the eighth pole,” Stevens said. “My horse settled nice, ran a big race and showed that he can go this far.”

Mike Mitchell, who trains Speedratic, would like to try his colt at 1 1/4 miles in the $500,000 Strub Feb. 5. Mi Preferido will also be there, along with Cherokee Colony, a solid winner Saturday in the San Carlos Handicap.

“I have no complaints,” Mitchell said of Speedratic’s race Sunday. “I’ve very happy with the way he ran.”

McCarron was confident through the stretch.

“I had a lot of horse left,” he said. “And my horse responded. I’m glad there was nobody running on the outside of Speedratic, because I felt that my horse could out-finish him. But Speedratic ran a great race. I didn’t think he’d go that far.”

Since the Malibu, Barrera had been standing Mi Preferido in the gate during the mornings, trying to get him to break better.

“This horse might run all day,” said Barrera, who also trained Island Whirl. “His sire had no trouble going a mile and a quarter.”

Horse Racing Notes

Laz Barrera won the San Fernando for the first time since he won the stake with It’s the One in 1982 and Wavering Monarch in 1983. . . . Trainers Gary Jones and Brian Mayberry saddled two winners apiece Sunday. . . . Chris McCarron, who led the country in major stakes victories with 17 last year, notched his first of the year with Mi Preferido.

Trainer Neil Drysdale, who has won with 6 of 12 starters at the meet, tries to beat heavily favored Very Subtle today with Miss Brio in the Santa Monica Handicap. . . . McCarron will take three days off, returning to ride next Saturday. . . . Trainer Charles Pinnell was fined $500 by the stewards after his horse, True Enough, raced with procaine, an illegal medication. Procaine, which is contained in antibiotics, can act as a stimulant when administered independently. True Enough was disqualified from his second-place finish in a race Dec. 31. Earlier in the meeting, the stewards fined trainer Paul Kooba $500 after his horse raced with an illegal analgesic in a race at Hollywood Park on Dec. 18. The horse, Love Dan’s Getaway, won the race and was disqualified.