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Melatonin lives up to expectations in winning the Santa Anita Handicap

Melatonin, Joseph Talamo
Jockey Joseph Talamo celebrates after riding Melatonin to victory in the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap on March 12 at Santa Anita Park.
(Benoit Photo)

It really shouldn’t have surprised anyone that longshot Melatonin won the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap on Saturday. A look at horse racing’s sabermetrics — past performances — made a very compelling case.

He had raced twice over the dirt at Santa Anita and won both times by a combined 7 1/4 lengths. Add the 4 1/4 lengths he won by en route to a $600,000 first-place purse Saturday and it all makes sense.

The fact that the race lacked the star power of past years didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of those in the winner’s circle. Or to those who bet him and returned $34.60, $13.80 and $6.00. Hard Aces, an even bigger longshot at 23-1, was second, followed by favorite Effinex.

Trainer David Hofmans said he needed some prodding to run in this race. The 5-year-old gelding had run only one graded stakes race in 10 starts. But the absence of California Chrome and Hoppertunity, both sent to run in Dubai, left the race wide open.

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"[Jockey] Joe [Talamo] and his agent, Scotty [McClellan], were insistent that we go,” Hofmans said. “After his last race he said we have to run here. Joe was convinced after his last race. He said he loves this race track.”

Talamo couldn’t resist making a word play on the horse’s name.

“What a tremendous effort,” Talamo said. “I think I need some Melatonin right now to calm down from it.”

The horse broke alertly and increased his lead at almost every call.

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Effinex, who usually runs in New York, was making his first start at Santa Anita. The runner-up to American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup Classic hadn’t raced since winning the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in November.

“I thought we had them,” jockey Mike Smith said. “But by the three-eighths pole, I felt him take a big breath and once he got his air, he didn’t put his head back down and take off again.”

The second favorite, Donworth, finished seventh of nine horses after a very rough trip. The horse appeared rank through much of the race and jockey Mario Gutierrez had to battle him throughout. Going into the clubhouse turn, Donworth even clipped the heels of Melatonin.

“Mario did a great job,” trainer Doug O’Neill said. “They were flying and he was just trying to get him to settle.”

Other winners

In addition to the San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Handicap, there were two other graded stakes races. What A View won the $400,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile over the turf. Kent Desormeaux was the rider for trainer Kenny Black.

Kobe’s Back, who at one point was appropriately named, won the seven-furlong $300,000 San Carlos. The late-running 5-year-old went off as the favorite with Gary Stevens riding for Peter Eurton.


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