Cal Cup Day Stars – The Chosen Vron & Grand Slam Smile 

January 14, 2024

The Chosen Vron gallops to the winner’s circle under Hector Berrios after success in the California Cup Sprint. (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

+ Jockey Maldonado Set To Return From Injury Saturday
+ Grade I Winner Slow Down Andy Back On Work Tab
+ Special Holiday Card Monday Includes $1 Beers & Sodas

Santa Anita Stable Notes By Victor Ryan

Led by a California-bred for the ages in The Chosen Vron, the stars showed up on California Cup Day Saturday at Santa Anita Park.  

A 6-year-old gelding by Vronsky, The Chosen Vron collected his 14th stakes win and pushed his earnings to $1,239,678 when winning the six-furlong California Cup Sprint for the second-straight year. He finished 2 ¼ lengths clear of runner-up Brickyard Ride, himself an eight-time stakes winner who won the Cal Cup Sprint in 2021 and 2022.

The Chosen Vron’s winning time under regular rider Hector Berrios was 1:09.06. The effort earned a 99 Beyer Speed Figure according to Daily Racing Form’s Brad Free.

While trainer and co-owner Eric Kruljac was not available for comment, The Chosen Vron was up and alert in Barn 48 Sunday morning. Kruljac’s foreman, Herlindo Huales, reported all was well with the gelding.

The Chosen Vron now has 15 wins in 20 starts with his biggest victory coming in last year’s GI Bing Crosby at Del Mar. In 11 outings dating back to November 2022, The Chosen Vron’s lone defeat came in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint here Nov. 4.

Earlier on Saturday’s card, the ascendant filly Grand Slam Smile put on a show of her own when cruising to a 2 ¼-length win in the California Cup Oaks under Frank Alvarado.

Grand Slam Smile with Frank Alvarado up takes top honors in the California Cup Oaks Jan. 13, 2024 at Santa Anita. (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)
Grand Slam Smile prancing to the winner’s circle with Frank Alvarado up after taking top honors in the California Cup Oaks. (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

Trained by Steve Specht, the Oaks was Grand Slam Smile’s first-time trying turf and navigating two turns. She earned the third stakes victory of her young career after previously winning the Fasig-Tipton Debutante at five furlongs on dirt in June and the Nov. 25 Golden State Juvenile Fillies going seven furlongs, both at Santa Anita.

On Sunday morning, Specht was on the road back to his home base at Golden Gate with Grand Slam Smile in tow along with the remainder of the five-horse contingent he brought south for Cal Cup Day.

“I didn’t think there would be an issue for her going two turns considering she was drawing off when going seven-eighths last time she was here,” Specht said. “That’s a sprint, while in a little longer race like this you get some time to relax. But I was very pleased she handled the turf. That was the unknown factor.”

By Smiling Tiger out of the Grand Slam mare Royal Grand Slam, Grand Slam Smile improved her record to 6-4-2-0 with $329,900 in earnings for owners-breeders Mr. & Mrs. Larry D. Williams.

“She’s really a nice filly and I’m very lucky to have her,” said the 74-year-old Specht. “But she certainly can be a handful sometimes, as we saw in the paddock when she pitched the rider.”

Prior to Saturday’s race, Alvarado was being given a leg-up on the filly when she reacted and sent Alvarado tumbling to the ground. He was up quickly and back aboard after being given the all-clear from medical staff.

As for what’s next for Grand Slam Smile, Specht said he had no immediate plans “but if I can keep her with Cal-breds for now that’s what I would prefer.”

Jockey Maldonado Set To Return From Injury Saturday

Heading to the winner's circle: Edwin Maldonado aboard the tenacious Ruby Nell. (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)
Heading to the winner’s circle: Edwin Maldonado aboard the tenacious Ruby Nell. (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

Jockey Edwin Maldonado plans to return Saturday at Santa Anita two weeks after injuring his right shoulder during training hours.

On the morning of Jan. 6, Maldonado was unseated after his mount stumbled while galloping on the main track. The horse, 3-year-old colt Gavea for trainer Dan Blacker, was uninjured and raced on Friday.

On Sunday morning, Maldonado was making the rounds at Santa Anita letting horsemen know he was ready to ride.

“I’m fine,” Maldonado said. “It was just unfortunate after such a good start to the meet.”

Through the first six days of the Classic Meet, Maldonado won six races from 15 mounts to tie for fifth in the jockey’s standings. His biggest win at the stand came on New Year’s Eve when guiding Ruby Nell to victory in the Lady of Shamrock Stakes on turf.

“It’s just one of those things,” Maldonado said of the setback. “But you know, if you never have bad days then you can’t appreciate the good days.”

Maldonado, 41, has been riding professionally since 2002. He has won 1,544 races while banking more than $53.7 million in earnings.

Entries for Saturday’s card will be taken on Wednesday. 

Gi Winner Slow Down Andy Back On Work Tab For O’Neill

Slow Down Andy winning the Awesome Again Oct. 1, 2023. (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)
Slow Down Andy winning the Awesome Again Oct. 1, 2023. (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

Slow Down Andy, who was forced to miss the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita because of filling in an ankle, worked for the first time Sunday since his win in the GI Awesome Again here Sept. 30.

Trained by Doug O’Neill, Slow Down Andy worked an easy three furlongs in 37.0 seconds. The 5-year-old full horse by Nyquist, a homebred for Reddam Racing, has banked more than $1.2 million while compiling a record of 5-4-2 in 14 starts. In addition to the Awesome Again, Slow Down Andy’s other major wins came in the GII Los Alamitos Futurity in 2021 and GII Del Mar Derby on turf in 2022.

Slow Down Andy was one of 210 workers at Santa Anita Sunday. 

FINISH LINES____________

Two-time Kentucky Derby winner Mario Gutierez had his first win of the Classic Meet Saturday aboard Court Snort ($18) in the third race for trainer Steve Knapp…

Saturday’s $1 Coast-to-Coast Pick 5 paid $1,123.10 for 170 winning tickets…

Clocker Andy Harrington will be host Tom Quigley’s handicapping guest Monday on the Santa Anita simulcast feed starting at 11:20 a.m.…

Santa Anita will host a special Martin Luther King Jr. holiday card Monday. On-track fans will receive $1 beers and sodas and $2 hot dogs.

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