Anees seeks to regain form at Santa Anita

Juvenile star has yet to make mark as 3-year-old

April 06, 2000|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ARCADIA, Calif. -- After winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November as a 30-1 fast-closing dark horse, Anees sparkled as the star of the 2-year-old division. He was voted an Eclipse award as North America's outstanding juvenile male.

But in the ensuing months, Anees vanished from the racing firmament. His trainer gave him time off. His comeback was delayed by a bruised foot. Then he finished third in his 3-year-old debut, the San Felipe Stakes 2 1/2 weeks ago at Santa Anita Park.

On Saturday, Anees will seek to restore his reputation in a $1 million stakes race with a million-dollar field, the Santa Anita Derby here at Santa Anita Park. In a race featuring six top Kentucky Derby contenders, Anees will be no better than third choice among bettors.

His trainer Alex Hassinger Jr., 37, says the lean and leggy son of Unbridled doesn't have to win the Santa Anita Derby to earn his place May 6 in the Kentucky Derby. But, the trainer says, he wouldn't be surprised if he does.

"He's the kind of horse you want to go through the Triple Crown with," Hassinger said yesterday outside his Santa Anita barn. "This is a step to get there.

"Last year, we wanted him right on Breeders' Cup day. This year we want him right for the Kentucky Derby. But I'm comfortable with his condition right now. I'm confident we'll lead a horse over there Saturday with a good chance to win."

In the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Anees stumbled at the break, fell far back into last and then, despite a speed-favoring track at Gulfstream Park, roared down the stretch to win going away by 2 1/2 lengths. Only four entrants in the 14-horse field raced at higher odds than the largely ignored Anees.

Gary Stevens, the Hall of Fame jockey who rode Anees that race, retired in December and now works as assistant trainer under Hassinger. Astride the stable pony, Stevens accompanies Anees to the track every morning.

He says the colt's late-running style and stamina are not his only attributes as the races get longer and the Kentucky Derby gets closer. Anees' personality may be his greatest asset, Stevens says.

"I've ridden a lot of Derby contenders, and you need to have a horse that will settle in mentally," Stevens said. "With 125,000 people out there and all the excitement, you need a horse who can take that.

"Anees, you could set off a bomb nearby, and it won't affect him. He's got all the traits of a classic-type horse, and the mile and a quarter will be absolutely no problem."

A mile and a quarter is the Kentucky Derby distance. The Santa Anita Derby is 1 1/8 miles.

Also, Stevens says he doesn't believe Anees peaked as a 2-year-old.

"I know it's been a long time since a 2-year-old champ has come back and won the Derby," Stevens said. "But Anees was not your typical precocious juvenile. He has maturity in front of him."

Spectacular Bid was the last 2-year-old Eclipse-award winner to win the Kentucky Derby. He did it in 1979. And no winner of the 16 Breeders' Cup Juveniles has ever won the Derby.

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