MONROVIA STAKES | PURSE: $100,000 | GRADE 3 | 4-YEAR-OLDS & UP | 6 1/2 FURLONGS (TURF)
Co-owned by sports broadcaster Jim Rome's Jungle Racing, Mizdirection caught fire late to capture Monday's Grade 3, $100,000 Monrovia Stakes at Santa Anita. The Mike Puype filly sat off a hot pace in her debut on the unique downhill turf course, but once the 3-1 second choice gained momentum, she drew off to hand hot-riding jockey Garrett Gomez his third stakes win of the New Year.
Gomez, who turned 40 Sunday, celebrated the milestone birthday by sweeping the Grade 2 Robert J. Frankel with Bauble Queen and the Kalookan Queen with Rumor.
"Garrett Gomez is burning," Rome said, alluding to the title of his famed ESPN television program, "Jim Rome Is Burning."
"Garrett can host the show tomorrow," Rome joked. "Garrett can do my TV show; it's Garrett's world, whatever he wants.
"I've had a lot of really good things happen to me in business and in life," Rome added, "but nothing has ever felt as good as that felt, in a professional sense. I don't know anything that's ever felt that good.
"It's awesome [to share the winner's circle ceremony with that many people]. The winner's circle keeps getting bigger and bigger, but as long as she runs like that, it's not going to be a problem at all."
The patient Gomez allowed Mizdirection to get comfortable off the pace, while Separate Forest blazed the trail through splits of :21 and :42 3/5. Defending Monrovia champion and 6-5 favorite Unzip Me loomed a threat turning into the stretch, but Separate Forest found another gear and opened up. Although Unzip Me valiantly stuck to her task down the lane, and inched closer, she wasn't giving her backers much cause for optimism.
Wider out, Mizdirection began to get organized for Gomez. Roaring past Unzip Me and Separate Forest, the newly-turned four-year-old bounded away by 1 3/4 lengths in a final time of 1:11 3/5 for about 6 1/2 furlongs on the firm turf. Mizdirection returned $8.40, $4.60 and $2.80.
"My horse broke running and she got up on her feet right away," Gomez said. "I didn't expect to have any horses in front of me because I didn't feel like there was that much speed. I thought maybe [Doug] O'Neill's filly [Separate Forest] and Marty's filly [Unzip Me, trained by Marty Jones] would show the most speed and I'd be somewhere right behind them.
"When I looked over [Joe] Talamo was up there [on Champagne d'Oro], and the outside horse was up there. So I just dropped her head and let her place herself. She kept herself where she was fairly comfortable and traveled good down the hill.
"I just don't like to take too much away from her because she stays better than she quickens. She carries her speed very well and is not one to fall apart. I didn't want to hold her up too much after we crossed the dirt. She traveled well, did everything good, and this was a good experience first time down the hill. Hopefully she can keep improving."
"It was a good race," Puype said. "She sprints with anyone on the turf, the way she ran today. She showed another dimension, too. She came from further back today. They were really flying and she kicked it in. I couldn't be prouder of her effort or the ride Garrett put on her. It was a big race.
"It's a dream come true to have a good filly like this that can do this kind of work on the grass at that distance."
A three-way scramble ensued for the minor awards. The 28-1 shot Wild Mia closed furiously for second by a nose from Separate Forest and Unzip Me, who dead-heated for third. They were trailed by Up in Time, Givine, Remit, Champagne d'Oro, Silver Rock and Fifth Commandment. Berg Bahn was scratched.
Rome, whose Jungle Racing is named after his sports radio talk show, campaigns Mizdirection in partnership with Danny Grohs, William Strauss, Borris Beljac and Kevin Nish. Last summer at Del Mar, Mizdirection captured the Sandy Blue Handicap, giving Rome his first stakes win. She earned her first graded tally in the Monrovia, advancing her record to 8-4-3-1, $255,711.
The gray, who broke her maiden by 11 1/2 lengths in a Hollywood turf sprint, also claims runner-up efforts in the Manhattan Beach and the Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap. Mizdirection crossed the wire fourth, but was promoted to third, in the Grade 2 Raven Run over Keeneland's Polytrack two back. She reverted to turf in a December 4 optional claimer at Hollywood and won convincingly by 2 3/4 lengths.
"I It took more than a few races to figure out what we want, but it's right there in black and white, turf sprints," Puype said.
"It's going to be hard to find a race," the trainer responded when asked about upcoming plans. "There's not a lot out there for this kind. We might give her a little break or something, I don't know."
Bred by Joseph J. Perrotta in Kentucky, Mizdirection brought $85,000 as a Keeneland September yearling, but only $50,000 as a two-year-old in training at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May sale. She is by Mizzen Mast and out of the Clever Trick mare Deceptive, who is also responsible for stakes winner Hurricane Bernie.