Another day, another big win for Pleasanton trainer Jeff Bonde at the Alameda County Fair horse racing meet yesterday.
The race track will be dark Monday and Tuesday, with horseracing resuming on Wednesday, July 8.
Sunday it was the 44th running of the $50,000 Alamedan Handicap which Bonde added to his already impressive haul, when Sierra Sunset wired the field, rolling home to win by five lengths in the 1-mile race for 3-year-olds and up.
It was fitting the first week of the 15-day meet at Pleasanton concluded for Bonde with a resounding win, as the trainer has been almost perfect, winning seven of the eight races in which he's entered horses. In fact, with each win, the size of the Winner's Circle photo entourage has continued to grow, so much so that on Sunday track officials needed to move everyone out the enclosed circle out to the main track to accommodate the over-flow.
And with the performance of Sierra Sunset, it may have been a case of people merely wanting to get into a photo with a potential horse racing superstar.
Last year, Sierra Sunset was cruising along towards a probable Kentucky Derby berth where the horse, owned by Phil Lebherz, George Schmitt and Al Mariani, would have been among the favorites for the race. But a shin injury suffered while winning the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park put the horse on the shelf for over a year.
Early in June, Sierra Sunset came back in the Grade III Ack Ack at Hollywood Park, but finished ninth in the race. The performance was not as bad as it looked, as in three races at Hollywood, Sierra Sunset has fared no better than sixth in a race.
"He hates that track," said Bonde.
Bonde then set about a tough training regime for Sierra Sunset and the horse responded, nailing three bullet works (fastest of the day) at Pleasanton leading into Sunday's race.
"He was dead-rock ready," said Bonde of Sierra Sunset. "I worked the (heck) out of him. I told (jockey William Antongeorgi III) he was ready to go."
And Sunday he was, turning what was expected to be a match-race between Sierra Sunset and Bold Chieftain into a laugher.
"He out-broke the field, so I just wanted him to relax," said Antongeorgi, who also worked Sierra Sunset the last two times. "There was only one other horse we thought could go out with him and we beat him out."
For a fleeting moment as the horses headed into the final turn, Bold Chieftain, with Russell Baze up, moved to within a couple lengths of Sierra Sunset. Antongeorgi knew it was time to let Sierra Sunset go and put any chance of a close finish away.
"I knew (Bold Chieftain) was a tough horse and he would make a run," explained Antongeorgi. "But I let (Sierra Sunset) open up and we broke his heart right there."
And Bonde knew it was over as well.
"He opened it up by just letting a notch out on the reigns," said Bonde. "I knew it was over. I understand people have their own opinions, but I knew I had the better horse. This was a very easy race for him."
Next up for Sierra Sunset will be the Grade III $300,000 Longacres Mile at
Emerald Downs in Auburn, Washington. More important than the prize money in the race, is the automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Mile on the dirt which goes to the winner.