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Renee springs titanic upset of Beholder in Santa Ynez
Zillah Reddam's Renee's Titan capitalized on a torrid early pace to stun newly-crowned champion Beholder at odds of 20-1 in Monday's Grade 2, $150,500 Santa Ynez Stakes at Santa Anita. Well beaten by Beholder in their only prior meeting, and winless from five previous stakes attempts, the Doug O'Neill trainee rallied from last to mug the 1-5 favorite and her stubborn rival Dawn's Charm in the final strides.
On paper, the Santa Ynez appeared to be a coronation for Beholder. A front-running winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in her last start November 2, she was just honored as champion two-year-old filly at Saturday night's Eclipse Awards. Her seven Santa Ynez rivals (reduced to six after the withdrawal of Blushing Angel) were a mixed bag of promising maiden winners, headed by Dawn's Charm, and those seemingly exposed in stakes company, such as Renee's Titan. Beholder loomed as the class of the field, but it didn't pan out that way in a fiercely-contested race.
The 6 1/2-furlong dash began with a mad scramble for the lead. The rail-drawn Small Moves was quickest in the opening strides, but Dawn's Charm had bags of speed herself, and the two matched strides. Beholder was among the chasing pack a couple of lengths off the pace, while Renee's Titan was detached from the field in last. After a first quarter in :21 on the fast track, Dawn's Charm wrested control from Small Moves and tried to kick clear.
But Beholder started to make her move and drew alongside as Dawn's Charm reached the half-mile in a blazing :43 3/5. The champion was traveling a tad more comfortably than the pacesetter rounding the far turn, and swung for home as though she would roll right on by.
Dawn's Charm had more left, however, and dug back in resiliently along the inside. Beholder found herself in a dogfight, and simply could not pass Dawn's Charm through six furlongs in 1:09 1/5.
One who was making headway along the fence was Renee's Titan. Under a furious drive by Tyler Baze, who had dropped his whip but was flailing his arms vigorously, Renee's Titan was relentlessly gaining on the top two. She overhauled the battling pair in time by three-quarters of a length, clocking 1:16 and sparking mutuels of $43.80, $7.80 and $4.20.
Renee's Titan swerved on the gallop-out, unseating Baze, in a maneuver that she's done before. Dennis O'Neill, the trainer's brother, described her as "crazy," but Baze was more diplomatic.
"She's got a few problems in her head, but she can really run when she holds it all together and she proved that today," the winning rider said.
"I have a lot of confidence in this filly," Baze continued. "I've been working her from the gate in the mornings for Doug, so I knew she would break well. She's very good in the gate, doesn't move. I think I broke on the lead even, I just sat on her and was as patient as I could be. I didn't care how far back we were, but by the three-sixteenths pole I knew it was time to get going. I skimmed the rail there, lost my stick, but she was running so I just did whatever I could to keep her going."
Assistant trainer Leandro Mora took care of saddling duties, as Doug O'Neill was at Oaklawn Park to watch Derby hopeful Avare disappoint in Monday's Smarty Jones Stakes.
"When she was behind a lot of horses, I was hoping to finish at least third," Mora said. "The horses were all packed, and when Beholder started moving, I said, 'OK, that's adios.' Now we got to work it out for some position. When she (Renee's Titan) started running like that, I knew we had a huge chance."
Beholder finally nipped Dawn's Charm by a nose for second. The champion's connections weren't too downcast by the defeat.
"She ran very well," jockey Garrett Gomez said. "I had expectations of a win, but she's coming off her first race since the Breeders' Cup, going two turns. We have been working to get her to settle and the idea was (with the outside draw) to let her find herself and see what happened from there.
"She cruised up there like she was going to do what she was supposed to, and she got a little tired is all. We turned for home and I thought we were going to be fine and I got the wrong answer, not the one I was looking for. She's a gamer, she'll bounce back and we'll see what (trainer) Richard (Mandella) does with her next."
"She just got a little tired, I'd say," Mandella said. "She had a nice trip. I don't think that was the deal (when asked if she didn't see the inside horse, Renee's Titan). I think she just got a little tired."
The Hall of Fame trainer added that if Beholder continues in good order, she would advance to the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes at one mile on March 2.
Another 3 3/4 lengths astern in fourth came Switch to the Lead, followed by Imwiththeblonde, Lady Rosamond and the eased Small Moves.
Renee's Titan earned 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks, and increased her earnings to $165,400 from her 7-2-2-0 record. Originally trained by Melody Conlon for John Liviakis, she made a winning debut in a $50,000 maiden claimer at Hollywood Park last June. Reddam then purchased her and transferred her to the O'Neill barn, and the daughter of Bernstein has run in stakes ever since.
Renee's Titan finished fourth in the Grade 3 Sorrento, and a distant sixth behind Executiveprivilege and Beholder in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante, before placing second in both the Phil D. Shepherd at Fairplex and the Sharp Cat at Hollywood. She was last seen fading to sixth in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet on December 8.
Mora commented on her behavioral quirks.
"She's done it before (ducking and unseating the rider), but mostly in the mornings," the assistant trainer said. "She dumped Kevin Krigger in a workout, so we keep company with her, always, always.
"She's so tough to train, we keep switching horses, not the same horse every morning, because she'll run them out. We do what we have to. She's likes to be athletic, so be it."
Bred by Mr. and Mrs. Liviakis in Kentucky, Renee's Titan is the first registered foal from the Tiznow mare Titan Queen, who is a full sister to the Dubai stakes-placed Roman's Run. Titan Queen is also a half-sister to current Canadian Grade 2 hero Big Band Sound -- a son of Bernstein and thus a close relative of Renee's Titan -- and to stakes scorer Silver Prospector. Further back, this is the family of Grade 1-winning sire Mining.