Competitive Cal Cup on tap

The California Cup, a series of races for horses bred in California designed to promote the breeding program in the state, will be run for the 31st time with five Stakes races Saturday at Santa Anita. Each Cal Cup day I am reminded of the following story.

The inaugural California Cup Classic in 1990 included a horse named My Sonny Boy, a $62,500 claim by trainer Bill Spawr who was scheduled to be ridden by Pat Valenzuela. Things did not go according to plan.

At the last minute, the jockey’s room called Spawr and said Valenzuela failed to show up to ride. With 14 horses scheduled to compete in the Classic there was no one left to pick up the mount. Darryl Rader, assistant trainer to Spawr, contacted Clerk of Scales Charlie McCall to see who was available.

“Nobody,” said McCall. “Your only chance is to try and catch Jorge Velasquez, who just took off for his car. There is nobody else left.”

Rader sprinted to the jockey’s parking lot and was able to catch Velasquez at his car and explain the predicament. Velasquez agreed to come back and ride My Sonny Boy. Spawr had never met Velasquez, so when the jockey came to the paddock to get instructions, the trainer had a question.

“Do you speak English?” asked Spawr.

“Better than you,” replied Velasquez.

They both had a good laugh.  Velasquez then took My Sonny Boy right to the front and kept on going to win the first California Cup Classic.

Entries for the Cal Cup will be drawn Wednesday.  Here is a look at the expected contenders for the five Cal Cup Stakes:

Unusual Heat Turf Classic:  Graded Stakes winner Acclimate returned from a year on the sidelines to set the pace in the Gr. II Hollywood Gold Cup at Del Mar before tiring to be beaten two lengths. He will be fit shortening up from that 12-furlong marathon to Saturday’s 1-1/8 mile trip. Indian Peak won the Snow Chief Stakes for Cal-breds last summer at Santa Anita at the same distance and should be bigger and stronger as a four-year-old. Rustic Canyon, a recent claim by trainer Peter Miller, showed immediate improvement for his new barn on New Year’s Day and the jump into a Stakes is a sign of confidence.

Cal Cup Sprint: Defending champion Fashionably Fast had his six-race win streak snapped when he stepped up into the Graded Stakes ranks, including a runner-up finish to McKinzie in the Gr. II Triple Bend.  He is fresh, working well, and the one to beat now that he is back in vs. Cal-breds. Tigre Di Slugo and Loud Loud Music are the up-and-comers of note. The former looked good beating Allowance horses off the layoff Nov 27, while the latter has won two straight, including a 13-1 upset in the Cary Grant Stakes vs. Cal-breds at Del Mar.

Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf Sprint: Warren’s Showtime is the class of the race, but she has also done her best work in two turn races. Expect her to be flying late. She’s Devoted is unbeaten from two starts, both turf sprints, and could be good enough in her first Stakes appearance. Leggs Galore has won all three starts on grass and has more early speed than the top pair.

Cal Cup Derby: Play Chicken was fitted with blinkers and stretched out around two turns for the first time when he won the King Glorious Stakes at Los Alamitos. That proven route form may give him the edge, though The Chosen Vron was extremely impressive winning his sprint debut on Dec. 27 and is bred to love a route of ground. Mister Bold is developing into a hard knocker and wasn’t disgraced behind the top choice in the King Glorious.

Cal Cup Oaks: Sensible Cat earned her Maiden win routing on the turf before coming right back to win the Soviet Problem Stakes for Cal-breds at Los Alamitos. She looks like strictly the one to beat. I’m So Anna won the Pike Place Dancer Stakes on turf at Golden Gate and could be the main threat. 

Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Santa Anita Friday, Race 5:  Savvy Gal (No. 5). Coming off a series of two turn races, this filly from the Richard Baltas stable tried sprinting on turf for the first time Oct. 18 and responded with an off-the-pace victory.