John Velazquez delivers as Queen Goddess wins Robert J. Frankel Stakes

ARCADIA — There were plenty of kudos dished out to jockey John Velazquez after the Hall of Fame jockey guided Queen Goddess to a gate-to-wire victory in the $100,000 Grade III Robert J. Frankel Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday.

The 51-year-old Velazquez shot out of the gate with the 2-1 favorite in the 1 1/8-mile turf stakes for fillies and mares, nursed her along through moderate fractions of 24.39, 48.89 and 1:12.42 en route to a final clocking of 1:48.35 over a grass course labled good because of light rain.

Co-owner Aaron Wellman said when he and his partners formed Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners they wanted Velazquez on their horses as often as possible.

“He’s been an integral part of Eclipse’s success over the years and we are forever indebted to him,” he said. “Having him here at Santa Anita for the big meet is huge for the community, for Santa Anita and for our stable. He puts in the work and he’s a Hall of Famer, he is here to play. It’s good to see him get out there and get a graded stakes to close out the year.”

Even though Velazquez said he and winning trainer Michael McCarthy conferred about strategy before the race, the latter said nothing needs to be said to Velazquez before a race.

“Johnny is in the Hall of Fame,” McCarthy said. “I’m not (giving instructions), he does his homework. He worked this filly the other day and was very impressed by the way she went.”

Queen Goddess, a 4-year-old Empire Maker filly, beat Closing Remarks by 2 1/2 lengths. It was another length and a quarter back to Quattroelle in third. Queen Goddess has won 5 of 10 lifetime for $470,580 in earnings.

“Michael and I talked before the race and it looked like there was only one other horse that could possibly be on the lead, so I decided to come out running to make sure she’s on the lead and then we can put her where she’s comfortable,” Velazquez said. “She was able to dictate the race by going to the lead the first time by the wire. At that point she was good. Going into the far turn, she switched to her left lead and she just went. I said, ‘OK momma, let’s go!’”

The victory was the second stakes win of the afternoon for Eclipse Award Partners after winning the Joe Hernandez earlier on the card.

Air Force Red and jockey Juan Hernandez win the Joe Hernandez Stakes on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, at Santa Anita. (Benoit Photo)

Joe Hernandez Stakes

Juan Hernandez won his sixth race of the Classic Meet, steering the Leonard Powell-trained Air Force Red to a 1 3/4-length victory in gate-to-wire fashion over Lane Way. Gregorian Chant was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third in the $250,000 Grade II stakes down the hillside turf course.

Air Force Red carved out fractions of 22.19, 43.65 and 1:05.66 en route to a final clocking of 1:11.53 for the 6 1/2 furlongs over a turf course labeled good. The 4-year-old Air Force Blue ridgling, who went off at 7-1, won for the fifth time in 10 starts and padded his earnings to $354,140.

“This was a really unbelievable year for me,” Hernandez said. “I really improved on myself and I have to give a lot of thanks to my agent and all the partners. Hopefully next year I want to keep working hard and have an even better year.”

Victor Espinoza guides Lady T to victory in the Las Flores Stakes on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, at Santa Anita. (Benoit Photo)

Las Flores Stakes

Lady T, the 2-1 second choice, rallied from fifth early on to beat 26-1 longshot Manorelli by 1 1/4 lengths in the $100,000 Grade III sprint for fillies and mares on a main track labeled fast.

Victor Espinoza guided the John Shirreffs-trained 3-year-old daughter of Into Mischief to her second victory in 11 starts as she hiked her career earnings to $229,700 with the $60,000 first-place check.

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