Express Train and Victor Espinoza winning the Santa Anita Handicap
In a thrilling stretch duel, C R K Stable’s Express Train prevailed by a head over midwestern shipper Warrant in Saturday’s 85th running of the Grade 1, $650,000 Santa Anita Handicap Presented by Yaamava’ Resort and Casino at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif. Once again a finalist for Racing’s Hall of Fame, trainer John Shirreffs notched his first-ever Big ‘Cap victory while Victor Espinoza got his third win in North America’s longest continually run “hundred grander.”
Attentive to the pace while three-deep the entire trip, Express Train was just a neck off of American Theorem and Warrant three furlongs out and forged to the front turning for home but Warrant, ridden by Flavien Prat, was a long way from done and in a see-saw battle, came up just short on the money but was immediately back in front in the gallop-out into the Club House turn.
“I always look forward to a chance to win this race,” said Espinoza, who at 49 was wearing his signature smile when addressing the print media. “This year was a little more special for John. I really wanted to get a win for him after so many years…As soon as (Express Train) is in front, he knows he’s got it. He just gave me a little bit of a hard time at the end to get me excited and pump up my muscles.
“I thought it was an exciting race. He is a powerful horse and he needs to find (a) rhythm. It doesn’t matter how wide I go on the turns as long as he is comfortable enough to stretch his legs and do his thing…When I have a horse that has a chance to win the Santa Anita Handicap, it’s always exciting.”
Fresh off a romping 3 ¼-length win in the G2 San Pasqual Stakes on Feb. 5, Express Train, who was seeking his first G1 victory, was off as the even-money favorite in a field of seven older horses and paid $4.20, $2.60 and $2.10.
Owned by Lee and Susan Searing’s C R K Stable, Express Train, who notched his fifth graded stakes win, picked up $390,000, making him racing’s newest millionaire with $1,325,800. By Union Rags out of the Mineshaft mare I’m a Flake, Express Train is now 17-7-4-3 overall.
“It feels great,” said Shirreffs, 76, when asked about winning his first-ever Big ‘Cap. “You dream about winning the Santa Anita Handicap and to actually have it happen and with a horse like Express Train, who has done everything (right) along the way…He participated in all the big races we had on the West Coast and he’s been there and shown up. To have him win the Santa Anita Handicap, it’s just thrilling.”
Trained by Brad Cox and himself in search of his first G1 win, Warrant, who is currently based at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, ran a tremendous race with Prat up for the first time. Off at 4-1, he paid $4.00 and $2.60 while finishing nine lengths in front of Stilleto Boy.
Ridden by Abel Cedillo, Stilleto Boy, next to last after the first half mile, never threatened as the second choice at 2-1 and paid $2.20 to show.
Fractions on the Big ‘Cap were 23.00, 45.97, 1:11.39 and 1:37.20.
Racing resumes on Sunday with first post time for a nine-race card at 12:30 p.m.