Georgie Boy, and track, get good reviews

Times Staff Writer

It was a good day at the track for a lot of people -- and a few horses -- on a beautiful Sunday at Santa Anita.

Georgie Boy, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, provided 67-year-old trainer Kathy Walsh and 75-year-old owner and breeder George Schwary with a Grade II stakes victory in the $150,000 San Vicente.

Walsh said it may be too soon to begin talking about the Kentucky Derby, but she is at least pointing the 3-year-old toward the Santa Anita Derby on April 5 with a possible 1 1/16 -mile race in Arkansas before that.


Georgie Boy, idle since winning the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 5, covered the seven furlongs in a blistering 1:20.01 and paid $7.80 to win. Into Mischief, the 7-5 favorite, finished second.

Even-money favorite Dawn After Dawn led all the way to win the Grade II $200,000 La Canada Stakes with the meet’s leading jockey, Garrett Gomez, aboard. Gomez now has 31 wins, followed by Bejarano and David Flores, with 25 each.

John Sadler, the trainer of Dawn After Dawn, a 4-year-old bay filly, is tied with Doug O’Neill atop the trainer standings with 13 wins apiece.

But maybe the biggest winner of the weekend was Ian Pearse, the Australian who arrived in Southern California on Jan. 10 to fix Santa Anita’s troubled synthetic track.

He left for home Sunday night, eager to return to his wife, a 4-year-old daughter and a 5-week-old son.

“I have a very patient wife,” Pearse said with a smile.

However, the biggest smiles were being worn by Santa Anita officials.

The revamped track, which reopened Saturday morning after being closed all week, was drawing mostly rave reviews throughout the weekend.

“I love it,” Gomez said.

“It’s great,” jockey Joe Talamo said. “It has settled in and is even better today than it was yesterday.”

Said jockey Michael Baze: “It’s certainly better than it was, more cushiony, which is good for the horses. The question now is how it will hold up the next time it rains.”

Pearse, USC professor Jean-Pierre Bardet and others have been working on fixing the track’s drainage problem since Pearse’s arrival. A wetter than normal winter coupled with the drainage situation resulted in 11 lost racing days over the meet’s first 33 days.

“I think those 11 lost days were the best thing that could have happened,” said Richard Shapiro, chairman of the California Horse Racing Board. “We’ve learned an awful lot.”

Said trainer Richard Mandella: “Sometimes you have to make a lot of mistakes to get something right.”

Trainer Bob Baffert, however, was more reserved. “It’s too early to tell,” he said. “Some horses like it, some don’t.”

It was learned Sunday that he has lost four promising horses -- Massive Drama, Maimonides, Vindication and J Be K -- because owner Ahmed Zayat moved them to Eastern tracks with dirt surfaces.

“He just got frustrated with the whole situation,” Baffert said.

Zayat shipped 27 horses east from Del Mar this summer over frustrations with the synthetic track there.

Santa Anita will make up one of its lost days Wednesday, which would normally have been a dark day. Santa Anita President Ron Charles said the track would apply for more make-up days, usually on Wednesdays. He also said a race or two might be added to the weekday cards each week.