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Latent Heat enjoys big opener

Times Staff Writer

In terms of the winning jockeys in the stakes races, opening day at Santa Anita could easily have been a weekend afternoon in June at Belmont Park.

Garrett Gomez, who took New York by storm in the summer and fall, and veteran New Yorkers Richard Migliore and Edgar Prado were the riding stars as the Arcadia track began its 70th winter-spring meet.

Called to duty by trainer Bobby Frankel before he heads to Gulfstream for the start of its season next week, Prado won the biggest prize, taking the $250,000 Malibu by two lengths with 5-1 shot Latent Heat.

Owned by breeders Juddmonte Farms, Latent Heat, a 3-year-old Maria’s Mon colt, rebounded from a dull outing in the Perryville over the Polytrack at Keeneland on Oct. 13 to win for the fifth time in nine starts.

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Making his first appearance in a Grade I, Latent Heat, whose best previous finish in a graded race was a third in the Santa Catalina on March 4, beat Spring At Last and 10 others in 1:21.39 for the seven furlongs.

The win in the Malibu, which kicks off the three-race Strub Series, was the second for Frankel, 65, who is closing in on history. He has 852 victories at Santa Anita, leaving him 17 shy of all-time leader Charlie Whittingham.

Frankel wasn’t surprised Latent Heat rebounded from his ninth-place effort in Kentucky, as the bay colt had an excuse.

“I wasn’t back there and he wasn’t eating well before the race and they were saying he was going to be all right, but his white [blood cell] count was 13,000 after the race,” Frankel said, pointing out that under 10,000 is normal. “He had to have some sort of infection in his system. He had been training well, and he performed like he was supposed to today.”

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Catching Whittingham “is still a long way away,” he said. “If I can live long enough maybe I’ll get there.”

The next race in the Strub Series is the San Fernando Breeders’ Cup Stakes, which is at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 13. Frankel is uncertain about Latent Heat’s participation, saying he may want to keep him around one turn.

Spring At Last, a 17-1 shot, beat Midnight Lute, the 3-1 second choice who was troubled at the start, by a head for the place. Brother Derek, the 2-1 favorite, finished sixth in his first collaboration with Gomez. The Benchmark colt has lost six in a row since winning the Santa Anita Derby on April 8.

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Before Prado’s heroics, Gomez, who appears on his way to winning an Eclipse Award as the nation’s top jockey for 2006, won four times, including the $141,375 California Breeders’ Champion Stakes with 2-1 favorite Pirates Deputy. Migliore, who is a regular member of the Santa Anita colony for the first time, won his first race locally, winning the $114,300 Sir Beaufort with 7-1 shot Kip Deville for trainer Rick Dutrow Jr.

Migliore, a native New Yorker who shares agent Ron Anderson with Gomez, found room along the inside with Kip Deville, a 3-year-old gray son of Kipling, to win by one length over 23-1 outsider Awesome Gem. The final time for the mile in a grass race named in honor of a Whittingham-trained horse who never won on the turf was 1:36.12.

“I can’t even begin to describe how thrilled I am to win a race like this on opening day,” Migliore said. “When I walked in here this morning it was just an unbelievable feeling.

“The atmosphere here with the big crowd [32,931] and the mountains

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Second in his first two starts for trainer Bob Baffert, Pirates Deputy broke through in the California Breeders’, taking full advantage of a fast pace to win by one length over 39-1 shot Tap It Light.

It was the second win in seven starts for the 2-year-old Bertrando gelding, who is owned by Terry Lanni and Bernie Schiappa. The time for the seven furlongs was 1:23.66.

The other wins for Gomez came on Storm Mate in the second, the Baffert-trained Tenfold in the third and Coco Belle in the fifth.

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bob.mieszerski@latimes.com


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