Melatonin wins $1 Million Santa Anita Handicap

IMG_3299Trainer David Hofmans decided it was worth it to take a shot Saturday with Melatonin in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap after just one start this year.

It paid off big.

In his 11th career start and first-ever Grade 1 race, the 5-year-old son of Kodiak Kowboy won by his largest margin ever – 4 1/4 lengths – in the longest race he had ever run.

Melatonin finished the 1 ¼-mile Big Cap in 2:02:01, rewarding his backers with $34.60 for a $2 win bet and collecting $600,000 for Tarabilla Farms Inc. The connections had to wait out an inquiry involving an incident with seventh-place finisher Donworth, but the stewards made no changes.

Last year’s Santa Anita Gold Cup winner Hard Aces finished second, with the favorite, 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Effinex, coming in third in his first race this year.

Melatonin’s win last month by 3 ¾ lengths in an allowance/optional claiming race at Santa Anita prompted the decision to enter the Big Cap.

“He was so powerful at this track and there weren’t really any superstars in here,” Hofmans said of the nine-horse Big Cap field. “I thought the horses from the East (Effinex and General a Rod) were pretty nice. There was no California Chrome, you know, so we had to take a shot.”

Hofmans said jockey Joe Talamo – who rode Melatonin in both races – and the rider’s agent were “insistent” about the horse running in the Big Cap after the gelding’s Feb. 5 victory.

In the winners’ circle after the race, Talamo called the gelding’s Big Cap “a tremendous effort.”

“Turning for home when he opened up, I was pretty excited,” he said.

As for what’s next, Hofmans said perhaps the Pacific Classic at Del Mar — or maybe something else in between.

“When you run a longshot in these races, you only think about the race (at hand),” the trainer said.

Also notching his first graded stakes victory was Danzing Candy, who led the entire way to win the Grade 2, $400,000 San Felipe Stakes by two lengths at odds of 5 ½ to 1.

The favored Mor Spirit finished second in the 1 1/16-mile race, with second-choice Exaggerator coming in third.

Danzing Candy’s trainer, Clifford Sise Jr., quipped, “… In the back of my mind, I just said, `Keep going, keep going, keep going.’ I mean I might have ridden him harder than (jockey) Mike (Smith).”

Sise said that he’s expecting the 3-year-old son of Twirling Candy to remain in Southern California for next month’s Santa Anita Derby and that he’s hopeful for a start in the Kentucky Derby.

“I hope he’s the next American Pharoah,” Sise said, noting that last year’s Triple Crown winner was “a good, good horse.”

Horse Bits:
 Kobe’s Back, a 5-year-old son of Flatter, rallied from last to win the Grade 2, $300,000, San Carlos by 1 ¼ lengths, marking his second consecutive victory. Trainer Peter Eurton said after the race, “I guess you (have) got to hand it to the (horse’s) maturity, the blinkers, the race track, (longtime jockey) Gary Stevens, the crew at the barn … He’s a different animal right now.” Stevens said after the race that he “knew at the 1/2-mile pole that they (his opponents) were all in deep water.”

 Kobe’s Back went off as the 2-1 favorite in the seven-furlong San Carlos. Two other gray/roan horses – Coastline and Calculator – finished second and third, with the “gray” trifecta paying just over $110.

 What a View – who was the second-longest shot on the board at 6-1 odds – topped favored Bolo and second-choice Bal a Bali in the $400,000, Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile on turf.