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SANTA ANITA : No Place Like the Southland for Lite Light

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Going into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Belmont Park last fall, Henry Moreno thought he had as good a chance as any trainer to beat the undefeated Meadow Star. Moreno’s filly, Lite Light, was coming off a victory over a capable field in the Oak Leaf at Santa Anita.

“New York didn’t pan out,” Moreno said. “It was cold back there that week, and my filly didn’t like it. We wanted her to come from off the pace, and instead she was practically on it. And then she bled in the race.”

Consequently, Moreno was about as wrong as a trainer could be. Lite Light ran 12th, finishing behind a 97-1 shot, and she beat only one horse--who was 100-1.

Now, Lite Light is back in California, where the weather is more agreeable and where her bleeding problem has been treated. In post-Breeders’ Cup assignments, she ran a winning race only to lose by a nose to Cuddles in the Hollywood Starlet; she was a troubled fourth in the Santa Ynez at Santa Anita Feb. 9 and Sunday she used a strong stretch run to win the $161,300 Las Virgenes.

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Lite Light, the 8-5 favorite of the crowd of 32,092, won by 2 3/4 lengths over a familiar rival, Garden Gal. It was three lengths farther back to Nice Assay in third place. Lite Light paid $5.20, earned $93,800 and ran a mile in 1:35 3/5, three-fifths of a second better than the stakes record.

Moreno and owner Jack Finley, an Arizona rancher, have owned horses together for more than 30 years. Moreno remembers running 1-2-3 in the 1950s with Finley’s quarter horses in both the trials and the final of the Phoenix Futurity, which had a first-place purse of about $5,000 at the time.

Finley picks out his own horses, usually paying between $35,000 and $65,000, and he bought Lite Light for $35,000 at a Keeneland yearling sale. “I liked the way she moved,” Finley said. “I looked at her three or four times. She had nice conformation, and she had the breeding (Majestic Light and Printing Press, an In Reality mare).”

Usually running against the best, Lite Light had won three of 10 starts before Sunday, earning $355,206. “This horse has a very good temper,” Moreno said. “She’s a long way from some of the other fillies I’ve trained, horses like Tizna and Sangue, but she can run any distance from seven-eighths of a mile on. We plan to run her in the Santa Anita Oaks (1 1/16 miles March 16) next.”

There is a good chance that Corey Nakatani will retain the mount for the Oaks, after having replaced the suspended Laffit Pincay Jr. on Sunday. Nakatani had ridden Lite Light once before, finishing third with her at Hollywood Park last year in the Landaluce, which was the filly’s third start.

In the Las Virgenes, Nice Assay was the pace-setter, running the first half-mile in a comfortable 45 4/5. Boots, half of the Wayne Lukas-trained entry, was second, with Garden Gal in third place and Lite Light slightly behind her.

On the turn, Nice Assay pulled away from Boots, but Garden Gal, with Angel Cordero Jr. astride, made her bid for the lead on the outside. About the time Garden Gal got in gear, Lite Light was moving fastest of all, in the middle of the track. She made the lead at the head of the stretch and never was threatened.

Watching the rerun on television, Moreno had only one criticism of Nakatani’s ride. “She almost shut off the other horse (Garden Gal) once she got the lead,” Moreno said. “He should have hit her left-handed instead of with the right. But I like Nakatani. He rides other horses for me. He’s one of my favorite riders.”

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Nakatani was aware that Lite Light might come over near the eighth pole. “I wanted to make sure I didn’t bother the other horse, because I felt my filly was going to win,” the jockey said.

Cordero, who is based in New York, usually rides Garden Gal, who missed the Breeders’ Cup because of a bruised foot.

“When Lite Light came to me, she flew by me,” Cordero said. “My filly tried to come back.”

Lukas, who had won the Las Virgenes twice, with Althea and Life At The Top, wound up seventh and eighth, respectively, with Boots and Cuddles. Moreno saddled Timely Assertion to win the Las Virgenes in 1987, and she came back to win the Oaks. His chances of continuing that pattern appear good this year.

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Horse Racing Notes

Lite Light and Garden Gal also ran 1-2 in the Oak Leaf and they were 2-3 in the Hollywood Starlet. Garden Gal has three victories, four seconds and a third in eight starts. . . . Angel Cordero Jr. stuck around to ride Recitation Spin in the nightcap and gave Bill Spawr, the meet’s leading trainer, his 24th victory. . . . Martin Pedroza, injured in a spill at Santa Anita on Saturday, remained hospitalized for additional X-rays Sunday. He has a bruised chest and shoulder and is expected to return to racing Wednesday.

In Wednesday’s Bolsa Chica Stake for 3-year-olds, Corey Nakatani will ride Broadway’s Top Gun and seek his second major victory of the season. Broadway’s Top Gun, fifth in the Hollywood Juvenile last summer, has been away from the races because of a sore shin. Others in the race are expected to be Gold Crest Express, Shining Prince, Caliche’s Secret, Weyse Kite, Bering Gifts and Iron Pleasure. . . . Trainer Charlie Whittingham said that he would probably run two horses in next Sunday’s San Rafael--River Traffic and either Excavate or Compelling Sound.


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