Merit Man may not have been the favorite to win the first running of the $100,000 Tim Conway Stakes at Santa Anita Saturday, but he ran like he should have been. In the six furlong race named for the famed actor that has been a longtime supporter of horse racing as an owner, fan and philanthropist, the Florida-bred son of Hartley/DeRenzo stallion With Distinction looked impressive in winning his second race in as many career starts.
Sent off as the second choice at 3-1 with jockey Patrick Valenzuela aboard, Merit Man broke well and immediately engaged South Floyd and Hollywood Juvenile Championship winner Scherer Magic as those three went the first quarter in a quick :21.81. South Floyd had the rail around the turn and Scherer Magic was between horses with Merit Man three-wide. However, the extra ground did not matter to Merit Man as he took the lead before they turned for home after a half-mile in :45.22. The quick pace took it’s toll on Schere Magic as he could not keep pace but it did not deter Merit Man as he began to increase his lead down the stretch, eventually hitting the finish line five and one-half lengths ahead of South Floyd in second and No Rachmones in third. Scherer Magic finished last in the field of five.
Valenzuela, who had missed the previous few racing days with knee issues, said he is not quite feeling 100 percent, but the stakes win made up for most of the discomfort.
“I’m feeling a little sore, but feel good,” Valenzuela said. “[Trainer] Bob Hess has a very nice horse here. He ran a very good race at Del Mar. He kind of blew himself up a little bit when he saw a photographer up past the wire. He looked at him and kind of pulled himself up a little bit but he’s a very nice horse. Two turns, let’s do it.”
Although Scherer Magic was the heavy favorite at post time, going off at 6-5 compared to Merit Man at 3-1, trainer Bob Hess said he felt confident going into the Conway.
“[Merit Man] runs much better on the dirt and we knew that going to Del Mar [with Polytrack],” Hess said. “He got down there, he kind of bobbled and really wasn’t smooth . . . My friend, Chris Brothers, was at the Ocala sale, we signed the ticket and we’re glad we did.”
Merit Man sold for $75,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company April Sale of Two Year Olds in Training from the consignment of Harley De Renzo Thoroughbreds, who also bred the colt at their Ocala farm. He now races for Bruce Chandler of Arcadia, Calif., Robert McKee’s Double Kee LLC of Phoenix, Ariz., and Karen and Jim Glavin’s Purple Shamrock of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. The $60,000 first prize in the Tim Conway boosted Merit Man’s lifetime earnings to $102,000.
Merit Man returned $7.80, $3.80 and $2.60 while South Floyd paid $3.60 and $3.00. No Rachmones paid $4.40 to show.
In his only other start, Merit Man was a winner of a maiden special weight event at Del Mar on Sept. 12. Hess said they had not determined the colt’s next start but said the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint was a possibility.
Photo by Benoit