On Santa Anita Handicap Sunday, an equine Morning Briefing, one geared to today’s 52nd running of the world’s richest handicap race and, in particular, to the words and wisdom of one Charles Whittingham.
The Bald Eagle has three horses entered in the Big ‘Cap, favorite Nasr el Arab, Frankly Perfect and Payant. He likes them all.
“All three of my horses finish well,” he said, then paused before delivering the punchline.
“Let’s hope they have some kind of luck getting there to finish.”
Add Whittingham: “There’s half a dozen horses in there that with a little luck could probably be the winner. But my horses are coming up good and I have no excuse.”
“I might have some after the race.”
More Whittingham: “None of my horses has a tremendous amount of speed.”
“But it’s a mile and a quarter race, and when you go for a million bucks, they pick up a little speed, most of them.”
Last add Whittingham: Talking about Payant, the Argentine-bred horse Bill Shoemaker will ride: “The fellow that owns him, Mr. (Ignacio) Correas, his family’s been breeding horses a hundred years.”
“By this time, they ought to get a good one.”
Trivia time: Trainer Eddie Gregson’s Super Diamond will be trying to accomplish something achieved before by Greinton, Cougar II, Seabiscuit, Moonrush, Mr. Consistency, Quicken Tree, Rosemont, Terrang and Top Row. What is it?
The Longshot: Julio Canani trains Martial Law, another 30-1 pick who was supplemented into the race at a cost of $25,000. What does the Peruvian conditioner think of his chances?
“Myself, I don’t go to church for 20 years, but Sunday’s going to be the first time,” he said.
Add Martial Law: One thing the bay colt has going for him is that he is the only horse in the field of 11 with connections to a previous winner.
Martial Law is a grandson of 1958 winner Round Table.
If the Shoe fits: Bill Shoemaker, headed for retirement, will likely be riding in his 35th and last Santa Anita Handicap.
Shoemaker has won 11, and Whittingham wouldn’t mind seeing him make it 12.
“It would be nice to see him win it,” he said, “and I think the Good Lord might be looking out for him. You can’t tell. He could say, ‘Well, this is Shoe’s last year, maybe we’ll let him come running.’ ”
No pause this time. He was sincere.
Trivia Answer: All nine horses won the Big ‘Cap after losing in a previous attempt.
Trainer Bruce Headley, who sends longshot Stylish Winner to the post at 30-1 from the inside post: “The post position won’t be any problem. The other horses will give him the trouble.”