By John Manley
Niall O’Callaghan has had every reason to feel confident about Guided Tour, the 5-year-old gelding he trains for Morton Fink. Save for a 12th-place finish in last November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, the son of Hansel has finished no worse than second in eight races stretching back to last May. So, the Corkman, based in New Orleans for the winter, shipped Guided Tour and stable jockey Larry Melancon out to Los Angeles for the $300,000 San Antonio Handicap, a Grade II race at Santa Anita, and got the lion’s share of the purse.
Deputy Flag set fractions of 23.2, 46.4 and 1:10.4 for the first three quarters of a mile, in which he led Freedom Crest, the even-money favorite, with Guided Tour in close pursuit. Melancon sent his charge to the lead along the rail around the far turn and straightened for the wire with a half-length lead. Lethal Instrument took up the chase in the lane, but Guided Tour extended his lead to a length and a half passing under the wire.
Guided Tour covered the nine furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.26. He paid $8.80 to win as the second choice in the pari-mutuels. The Kentucky-bred gelding now has nine victories from 23 career starts, with a bankroll of $760,033.
Not to be overlooked is John Sullivan’s fine effort in training Moonlight Charger up to a third-place finish in the San Antonio. Now semi-retired, Sullivan is destined to be remembered for the race that got away, the inaugural running of the Arlington Million, in which The Bart got nailed at the wire by John Henry. Here, Moonlight Charger showed that Sullivan retains a few tricks in his arsenal that have worn well over the years. Owned by longtime patron Duane Clark, Moonlight Charger was sent off at 66-1 in his first graded stakes outing. He checked in five lengths behind Guided Tour.
Meanwhile, at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Ark., Meath native David Carroll was making quite an impression with Gatewood. The five-year-old gelding was beaten 14 lengths by Guided Tour in their last outing, the Louisiana Handicap at Fair Grounds, but with that rival hunting bigger game, the Shortleaf Stable colorbearer boogied under Craig Perret in the $50,000 Crabapple Stakes.
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Employing a less frenzied style out of the gate than he had been disposed to, Gatewood was dead last through the opening half mile, with another half to go. He picked off five of his rivals over the next quarter-mile, then was sent into overdrive by Perret. Gunning four wide, Gatewood went from four lengths behind to four lengths ahead in the span of one furlong. His lead held to the wire, although the final time of 1:38.73 for the mile on a fast track didn’t break the springs in anyone’s stopwatch.
Gatewood paid $23.60 to win. He’s a Kentucky-bred son of Pine Bluff, which won the Preakness Stakes for Shortleaf master John Ed Anthony, who was then doing business as Loblolly Stable. Gatewood now has six victories in 19 starts, with earnings of $181,630.