Don’t ask Wayne Lukas who he believes should win the Eclipse award as the nation’s best 3-year-old filly.
All he hopes is that either Surfside or Spain, both of whom he trains, is the choice of the voters, who have until noon Tuesday to express their opinion.
Although it was probably too late, Spain strengthened her case for the Eclipse by giving the Lukas stable a national-high eighth Grade I victory of the year with a three-quarter-length win in the $200,000 La Brea Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.
Less than two months after her 55-1 shocker in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, the 3-year-old Thunder Gulch filly added another Grade I victory to her resume. She has won five of nine since joining the Lukas barn in May.
Trying a sprint for the first time since she was second in the Del Mar Debutante on Aug. 29, 1999, Spain, the 7-2 second choice, rallied on the outside under jockey Victor Espinoza to win in 1:22 1/5 for the seven furlongs.
Cover Gal, a 14-1 shot, was second, a neck in front of the previously unbeaten Serenita, then came 7-10 favorite Chilukki, Penny Blues and Queenie Belle.
For Chilukki, it was only her second defeat in 12 starts around one turn. Looking to give trainer Bob Baffert his fourth win of the afternoon, she was fourth after a surprisingly slow 22 4/5 opening quarter, came through along the rail and wound up 1 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
“She did not do much running today,” jockey Gary Stevens said of Chilukki. “She was very quiet going to the gate, and I was hoping it was a good sign.
“Obviously, it wasn’t. She was just very lethargic throughout the race. I had to start riding her early, and we really had no excuse. I was surprised she wasn’t taking me into the race a little more.”
Spain, who is owned by Prince Ahmed Salman’s Thoroughbred Corp., will now stretch out again, according to Lukas, and the plan calls for her and Surfside to stay separated.
“There are a lot of good races and with these short fields, we may have to go out of the 4-year-old division, but we have quite a few opportunities to keep the two fillies apart,” Lukas said. “This was not an ideal distance for her, but we had to start back and we thought we’d take a chance. This was a great bunch of fillies. You have to be impressed with the field and I think any one of four or five could have won this race.
“Victor is a good fit on this filly. He’s such a hard-trying jockey. I just love the way he gets down. He doesn’t give up no matter where he’s at in a race and that’s going to carry him a long ways in this profession.”
A slight bobble leaving the starting gate wasn’t about to stop heavily favored Proud Tower in the $150,000 California Breeders’ Champion Stakes.
Winning his third in a row, the 2-year-old Proud Irish colt recovered quickly from his early misstep, took over from pacesetter King La Boo with about a quarter of a mile to run and cruised the rest of the way.
Completing the seven furlongs in 1:21 3/5 under Espinoza, the 2-5 choice wound up three lengths in front of 6-1 third choice Swordfish while winning for the fourth time in six starts.
Owned by Tricar Stable and trained by Jose Silva, Proud Tower probably will try two turns again in his next start, which will either come in the El Camino Real Derby on March 10 at Golden Gate Fields or the San Felipe Stakes a week later at Santa Anita. In his only other start around two turns, he won the California Cup Juvenile by eight lengths in October.
“He won easily,” Silva said. “He’ll run in one of those two races and then we’ll get him ready for the Santa Anita Derby [on April 7]. The reason we ran here is because we want to take it easy with this horse and we want to save something with him for the future.”
Espinoza believes the colt is getting better with every start.
“He indicated he’s very good, much better than before,” he said. “He runs as hard as he can. I don’t think there will be any problems with the next race.”
Idle since May 28, Freespool is back to defend his title in the $100,000 El Conejo Handicap today at Santa Anita.
Trained by Ted West for the Desperado Stables, the 4-year-old son of Geiger Counter won this 5 1/2-furlong race by 1 1/2 lengths over Mellow Fellow and four others last Jan. 2.
Chris McCarron will again be aboard Freespool, who worked five furlongs in a sizzling 56 3/5 seconds Tuesday.
Lexicon, who finished third, four lengths behind Men’s Exclusive in the Vernon O. Underwood at Hollywood Park three weeks ago, is the 2-1 favorite on the morning line. He will be looking for his third victory in seven tries at Santa Anita.
The 3-1 third choice, Men’s Exclusive has won two of his last three for trainer Wesley Ward and his win in the Underwood was one of the best efforts of his 28-race career.
Completing the field in the Grade III are Capo Di Capo, Rapidough, Son Of A Pistol and Lesters Boy. Son Of A Pistol and Rapidough will be coupled in the betting due to common ownership.
Rosanda, who has been first or second in five of her six races around one turn, is the lukewarm 7-2 favorite against 10 other 2-year-old fillies in the $150,000 California Breeders’ Champion Stakes.
Owned by Robert and Barbara Walter and trained by Jose Silva, Rosanda hasn’t been out since being eased in the California Cup Juvenile Fillies, her lone start past seven furlongs.
Shortening up this afternoon, the Robannier filly could be in the right spot behind what should be a lively pace. Espinoza will ride for the first time.
The rest of the field, in the seven-furlong race, from the inside out, is Thewholebag, Preciosa, Always The Lady, the 9-2 second choice, Little Chilly, Bar Breeze, Remember Dorothy, Warren’s Whistle, Sturge Weber, Centerofattention and Comedy Class.
Jockey Eddie Delahoussaye will begin a three-day suspension Monday after being disqualified on Iam The Ice Miss in Thursday’s fourth race. . . . Captain Steve, who may run in the $250,000 San Fernando Breeders’ Cup Stakes on Jan. 13, worked five furlongs in 59 3/5 Saturday morning for trainer Bob Baffert. . . . Jockey Kent Desormeaux is closing in on a milestone. Desormeaux, who has six mounts on today’s card, needs eight victories to reach 4,000 for his career. . . . Although he missed in the La Brea Stakes, Baffert won the first race with Denied, the fifth with Tribunal, who was making his first start since April 1, and the sixth with favored Pacific Gold.