Pat Valenzuela can be forgiven if his memory drifted back eight years to the days of the gray filly Melair after his easy victory aboard Sportful Snob in the $106,400 Railbird Stakes at Hollywood Park on Saturday.
"No, not really Melair, but close enough today," Valenzuela said after riding Sportful Snob to a $21.40 upset in the seven-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies.
"Melairs don't come around too often," Valenzuela added. "But today, this filly acted like she wanted to be one."
Valenzuela was aboard Melair in 1986 when she won the Railbird, the Princess Stakes and defeated Preakness winner Snow Chief in the Silver Screen Handicap at Hollywood Park.
As was Melair, Sportful Snob is a California-bred filly with tremendous early speed--she needed barely 44 seconds to go the first half-mile Saturday--and she is trained by John Sadler. But there the similarity ends.
Sportful Snob, a brownish bay, began her racing career in Nebraska with a 13-length victory, then was bought by a partnership that includes Jack and Barbara Owens of Modesto, Montana rancher Lloyd DeBruycker and filmmaker Librado Barocio.
"John is a terrific trainer, but the credit for this filly should go to Jerry Hollendorfer, who trained her until a couple weeks ago," Barocio said. "We thought she was good enough to stay at Hollywood, so Jerry recommended John."
In fact, Sadler wasn't even on the scene Saturday. The trainer took a group of his stable hands to the Rose Bowl to watch the United States play Mexico in their final World Cup prep, leaving his longtime assistant, Rick Sanchez, to handle the Railbird.
"I bet John a dollar the U.S. would win, just to help Mexico," Sanchez said with a smile.
Sportful Snob needed little more than a clean break from Valenzuela to take complete charge of the Railbird. Accountable Lady, unbeaten and favored at even-money, led the chase down the backstretch, but the race was basically over when Sportful Snob reached the top of the stretch with a clear lead. She increased her advantage through the final 200 yards to beat Pirate's Revenge by four lengths in 1:21 4/5.
Accountable Lady held on for third, well ahead of Sophisticatedcielo. Beautiful Gem was a distant fifth and last.
"That'll teach people when they start getting high on a filly after she's won just two races," jockey Eddie Delahoussaye said of Accountable Lady.
"She wasn't quite the same today, though," Delahoussaye added. "She seemed stressed out. And she never got wet going to the gate before."
Sportful Snob, on the other hand, acted like an old pro from the minute she left the paddock. She has now won four of her six starts, with her only losses coming to Key Phrase, a stablemate of Pirate's Revenge.
"I don't know what happened to her when she lost the other night," said Sanchez, referring to Sportful Snob's second in the Crimson Saint Stakes at Hollywood on May 20. "It was the only time she wasn't on the lead. Maybe the lights bothered her.
"I knew if she broke good she could get the lead. And if she got the lead, she would be hard to catch. Yeah, a little bit like Melair."
The Wicked North is the morning-line favorite in today's Californian, his first West Coast appearance since his controversial disqualification from victory in the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap March 5.
Stuka, who inherited the victory on the disqualification, is among The Wicked North's seven opponents. But the one who probably will be the most formidable is Del Mar Dennis, who will be going for his third consecutive stakes victory when he carries 118 pounds, two less than The Wicked North.
The rest of the entrants are Thunder Rumble, Slew Of Damascus, Kingdom Found and Hill Pass.
Horse Racing Notes
The second edition of the Best Seven bet handled $224,849 nationwide, a decrease of nearly 40% over last Monday's debut. Tickets with seven winners returned $1,739.75 based on a 50-cent wager. Six winners were worth $9.85. The only longshot among the seven was Ellin B., who won Pimlico's Lady Baltimore Stakes at 11-1. Southern California fans bet $63,752--more than a quarter of the pool--and had to wait nearly an hour before getting the payoffs.
Southern California horses did well nationwide Saturday. Eagle Eyed toyed with the field in the $100,000 Sausalito Stakes at Golden Gate Fields. Cool Air, whose only local loss since last fall was to Mamselle Bebette, defeated males on rain-soaked turf in the $100,000 Lago Mar Handicap at Calder. And Trishyde won the $165,150 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs.
In addition to Trishyde, Chris McCarron rode two other winners at Churchill Downs, bringing his career total to 5,990. . . . Alex Solis won five races on Saturday, breaking away from Gary Stevens at the top of the local standings. Stevens was in Kentucky riding Kalita Melody to a sixth-place finish behind Trishyde.