The Great One looks to honor his namesake in Runhappy Santa Anita Derby

March 26, 2021

Cal-bred champ doing ‘Super’ for Santa Ana; Mandella says United up to speed in training

ARCADIA, Calif.—Doug O’Neill hopes The Great One rebounds from his disappointing fifth-place finish behind recently sidelined Life Is Good in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes on March 6 when he runs in the Grade I Runhappy Santa Anita Derby next Saturday, April 3.

Named for NHL superstar Wayne Gretzky, The Great One was coming off a smashing 14-length maiden win prior to the San Felipe, in which he finished almost 17 lengths behind Life Is Good after bumping a rival at the start and going four-wide into the stretch before weakening.

“The Great One is scheduled to work tomorrow and as long as that goes well and he comes out of it in good shape, that’s the plan,” said O’Neil, who posted back-to-back Santa Anita Derby victories with eventual Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another in 2012 and Goldencents in 2013.

“Abel (Cedillo) will be back on him and we’re excited about getting another chance against these caliber of horses,” O’Neill said. ‘We’re real happy with The Great One and think he can rebound and run a big race.”

Team O’Neill obviously was delighted with Hot Rod Charlie’s dominant triumph in the Louisiana Derby on March 20. The son of Oxbow will train up to the Run for the Roses, which the trainer also won in 2016 with Nyquist, 2020’s leading freshman sire.

“He’s back here at Santa Anita and looks great,” O’Neill said of Hot Rod Charlie. “We’re optimistic about the first Saturday in May with him.”

The Runhappy Santa Anita Derby headlines six stakes next Saturday, four of them graded and two showcasing California-bred or sired runners.

In addition to the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, they are the Grade II Santa Anita Oaks for three-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles; the Grade II Royal Heroine for fillies and mares four and up at one mile on turf; and the Grade III Providencia Stakes for three-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

Also, two Golden State Series races, the $150,000 Echo Eddie Stakes for three year olds at 6 ½ furlongs and the $150,000 Evening Jewel Stakes for three-year-old fillies at 6 ½ furlongs.

In all, the six stakes offer $1,750,000 in purse money.

—Cal-bred champ doing ‘Super’ for Santa Ana

Newly minted California-bred Horse of the Year Mucho Unusual makes her first start tomorrow since being crowned March 15 by the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

Owned and bred by George Krikorian, the five-year-old daughter of Mucho Macho Man out of the Unusual Heat dam Not Unusual also was named champion older female and turf horse.

Next up: Saturday’s Grade III Santa Ana Stakes for fillies and mares four and up at a mile and a quarter on turf.

“She’s training super and we’re looking forward to running her a mile and a quarter since she’s already won at the distance,” said her trainer, Tim Yakteen.

He was referring to her gate-to-wire victory in the Grade I Rodeo Drive Stakes at Santa Anita last Sept. 26.

“We were happy she won those honors and hope to keep campaigning her this year at the same high level,” Yakteen said. “She’s been very solid for us and we expect another real strong race at the distance.”

Mucho Unusual rarely disappoints no matter the conditions as her 7-4-4 record from 20 starts indicates.   

The consistent bay mare has earned $862,715 and competed in 14 straight stakes, seven of them Grade I’s, and all but one in open company. She was a willing second last out, beaten only a length, to surging stakes winner Charmaine’s Mia in the Grade II Buena Vista on Feb, 20.

The Santa Ana, won in 2017, 2018 and 2019 by Richard Baltas trainees, will be run for the 53rd time and goes as race nine of nine with a 1 p.m. first post time.

Baltas has two horses entered Saturday, Going to Vegas and Colonial Creed.

The field: 

1. Mucho Unusual, Flavien Prat, 8-5

2. Silberpfeil, Tyler Baze, 30-1

3. Going to Vegas, Umberto Rispoli, 7-2

4. Tapwater, Mike Smith, 4-1

5. Red Lark, Ruben Gonzalez, 5-1

6. Neige Blanche, Juan Hernandez, 8-1

7. Altea, Abel Cedillo, 8-1

8. Colonial Creed, Mario Gutierrez, 12-1

—Mandella says United up to speed in training

Richard Mandella’s marathon turf specialist United came out of his punctual three-quarter length victory in last Saturday’s mile-and-a-half San Luis Rey Stakes in good order, the Hall of Fame trainer summarily dismissing some media questioning his training regimen for the Giant’s Causeway gelding prior to the race.

United had not run since last Nov. 7 when eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland. The six-year-old gelding had been working forwardly for his return, however, with a one-mile drill March 6, a mile-and-an-eighth breeze March 13, and a three-furlong blowout March 18, two days before the San Luis Rey.

“What would have been unusual was starting a horse at a mile and a half after a long layoff (nearly five months),” said Mandella with a hint of a chuckle, adding that United “more than likely” will make his next start in the Grade II Charles Whittingham Stakes at 1 ¼ miles on turf May 29.

United won the Whittingham by a nose last May and was second in the race by three-quarters of a length in 2019.

Owned by LNJ Foxwoods, United has an 8-4-1 record from 18 starts with earnings of $499,872.

Santa Anita’s runaway riding leading rider Flavien Prat has piloted United in his last 12 races, winning six.

FINISH LINES: Hit the Road and Smooth Like Strait, the one-two finishers by a neck in the Grade I Kilroe Mile on March 6, each worked Friday, the former going five furlongs on the training track in a bullet 1:00.20 for trainer Dan Blacker and the latter five furlongs on the main track in a minute flat for Michael McCarthy. Both horses could meet again May 31 in the Grade I Shoemaker Mile, a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Race. There were 101 recorded workouts Friday, 10 on the training track. McCarthy was still “not sure” this morning where he was running El Camino Real Derby winner Rombauer, the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby and the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct both on April 3 seemingly his only options . . . With previous Kentucky Derby Future Book Wagering favorite Life Is Good off the Triple Crown trail due to a small chip in his left hind ankle, champion two-year-old male of 2020 Essential Quality closed as the 3-1 choice in the final pool. Seven horses based at Santa Anita are among the 24 finalists with individual odds. They are Concert Tour (Bob Baffert), 9-2; Dream Shake (Peter Eurton), 50-1; Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill), 6-1; Hozier (Baffert), 30-1; Medina Spirit (Baffert), 20-1; Rock Your World (John Sadler), 50-1; and Spielberg (Baffert), 50-1. Spielberg is listed at 4-1 on the morning line behind 6-5 favorite Greatest Honor in Saturday’s Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

Santa Anita Stable Notes by Ed Golden

Photo: The Great One, (Benoit)

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