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Vino Rosso finds his Santa Anita groove to win Grade 1 Gold Cup

Vino Rosso finds his Santa Anita groove to win Grade 1 Gold Cup
Vino Rosso and jockey John Velazquez finish ahead of Gift Box to win the Grade 1 $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita on May 27. (Associated Press)

Sometimes a change in scenery is all you need.

Vino Rosso, who before Monday had never raced west of the Eastern time zone, found the deep track of Santa Anita very much to his liking as he wore down a game Gift Box in the deep stretch to win the Grade 1 $500,000 Gold Cup.

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Last year, Vino Rosso was one of those under-the-radar Kentucky Derby horses that everyone was giving a shot to, especially since jockey John Velazquez got off the Florida Derby winner Audible to ride the Wood Memorial winner.

It didn’t turn out so well as he finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby. Audible finished third. In the Belmont, he just missed the board, finishing fourth. Then there was a third in the Jim Dandy and a fifth in the Travers, and he was off everyone’s “A” list.

Vino Rosso is trained by Todd Pletcher, who did not come out for the race. So, the race instructions fell to assistant Amy Mullen, who has been with the horse for the last week, right? Nope.

Owner Mike Repole gave the orders, at least according to Velazquez.

“I talked to Mike Repole on the phone and he said to make sure to thank him because he’s the one who gave me the instructions to win the race,” said Velazquez, who has ridden the colt in all 12 of his races. “So thank you Mike and thank you Todd.”

Pletcher said they had a conference call about 35 minutes before the race.

“We wanted to take advantage of outside post,” Pletcher said by phone from New York. “He likes to run in the clear. It was just a matter of where he landed depending on where Gift Box was. I was a little concerned he was a little wide in the first turn but he was in a good comfortable rhythm.”

Vino Rosso settled into a nice place just off the front runners Blitzkrieg and Gift Box in the 1¼-mile race. When Gift Box made his move midway through the far turn, Vino Rosso went with him. Vino Rosso popped his head in front at the top of the stretch but had to battle all the way as Gift Box was not giving up. Gift Box’s last race was a win in the Santa Anita Handicap.

At the end, Vino Rosso had a three-quarter length advantage. He was followed by Gift Box, Lone Sailor, Mongolian Groom, Higher Power, Core Beliefs and Blitzkrieg. Vino Rosso paid $10.20, $3.00 and $2.60.

Vino Rosso was originally scheduled for the Metropolitan Mile, on Belmont Stakes day in two weeks. But then Pletcher changed his mind.

“Our primary focus was to get him a Grade 1 win,” Pletcher said. “He’s a very well-bred horse and a good looking horse. Getting a Grade 1 was paramount to a stallion career. He looked like he would be the second choice [in the Gold Cup] so it seemed like a good time to take a shot, especially because he had been training so well.”

Other than going back to New York, nothing is firm for the colt’s next race.

“We’ll look at the Whitney, and maybe even look at coming back to California for the Pacific Classic,” Pletcher said.

The Gold Cup was one of three Grade 1 $500,000 races on Monday.

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Perhaps the most thrilling race was watching Vasilika go from sixth at the three-quarters mark and sweeping to the outside to fifth at the top of the stretch and then winning the Gamely Stakes by a length. The race was 1 1/8 miles on the turf for fillies and mares.

It was Vasilika’s 12th win in her last 13 races and her second Grade 1 win, having won the Rodeo Drive Stakes last September. She paid $4.20, $2.40 and $2.20. Rymska was second and Ahimsa was third.

“She has the turn of foot that most horses don’t have and she continues to do it,” said trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. “[Jockey Flavien] Prat didn’t like where he was so he let her drift back a little so he could get out of where he was. … Luckily, once she saw daylight, she had that big turn of foot.”

The final Grade 1 stakes of the meeting was the $500,000 Shoemaker Mile, a turf race.

Bolo, a sentimental favorite having been off the track for almost two years, went gate to wire to win the Shoemaker by 1¼ lengths.

“The first race in April was bit far for him and he hadn’t run in basically two years,” said trainer Carla Gaines. “So, it was sort of like let’s get him out there and have him carve out some easy fractions and see if he can keep going. He got a little tired in the end [in that race] but [Monday] he didn’t.

“My emotions are coming from the long road back to the track with him and he’s just special.”

Bolo, ridden by Florent Geroux, paid $67.80, $22.60 and $11.80. River Boyne was second and Bowie’s Hero finished third.

There are no more Grade 1 races in the 12 remaining racing days before the track meeting ends on June 23.

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