Breeders’ Cup Diaries: When Leonard Looks At California Angel, He Sees A Bright Future - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Breeders’ Cup Diaries: When Leonard Looks At California Angel, He Sees A Bright Future

Leonard with California Angel and his wife Isabel

This continues our daily diary following Breeders' Cup first-timer George Leonard and his fan favorite filly California Angel on their route to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. See the first edition here.

Trainer George Leonard can finally rest easy – his princess has arrived at Del Mar.

After numerous plane delays for a flight that included not just California Angel but a number of Kentucky-based shippers, including the Brad Cox barn, the 2-year-old chestnut finally stepped onto the Del Mar backstretch around 10:30 last night. Stable staff can't travel with horses flying on FedEx, which is the default air carrier for horses since Tex Sutton closed up shop, so California Angel arrived without an entourage. Leonard said he probably couldn't have spared the help back at Indiana Grand anyway, where his remaining staff is looking after his other 19 horses. That means as long as she's here, Leonard is his filly's groom and hotwalker, which is no small feat.

Horse people know the old warning about chestnut fillies – they have strong opinions, and plenty of them. Those opinions can sometimes turn on a dime.

Sure, Leonard said, she has a streak of that stereotypical chestnut in her. She's always smart, nearly always easy and very mentally mature. She doesn't mind being handled until she does mind, and will make an impressive series of sour faces at Leonard. She's more bark than bite (most of the time); Leonard thinks sometimes she's just not in the mood to be social.

“She can be sweet and sour,” he said. “When she gets irritated with you she'll nip at you like, 'Get away from me.' But most of the time she's pretty sweet. She's all lady.”

When she gives him the stink eye, Leonard takes note. He moves quietly, does what he needs to do, and gets out of her way.

She's also quick on her feet. On Tuesday morning, Leonard's big hurdle was giving her a chance to see the track. He debated whether to walk her in her busy barn or let her stretch her muscles on the racetrack, so he brought her out for a relaxed walk in the yard to get a feel for her. The 2-year-old took in the scenery, looking relaxed in a way that smart fillies can when they're plotting something. In no time, her hind heels were above her head with an impressive series of bucks. Leonard, in a way only really experienced horsemen can, stood still, spoke to her in a low voice, and kept his hands quiet, waiting for the episode to pass. When she moved on, he moved on – no fuss, no yanking on her shank.

After that, he decided she probably wanted to go to the track.

 

“I went on and let her gallop,” he said. “She was too hyper. She did real well. I didn't know how she was going to handle it but she was really ready.”

The beauty of having a promising 2-year-old is that they evolve. While a successful juvenile campaign is very often about finding a horse who's at their peak early on, Leonard said he can look at California Angel and see more to come. She's an impressive scaffolding, but she'll be even better when she has filled in the gaps.

“She's still growing. She's grown since I bought her [in June],” said Leonard. “I'm looking for her to develop. She's just starting to develop now. She's not half the horse she's going to be. She's mature mentally but physically she's still growing and she'll be a lot more horse here in a little while. More muscle and body tone. She has shown very good talent already and you know there's a lot more to come.”

For now though, Leonard said he's focused on this weekend. He has seen many of the fillies the California Chrome daughter will face in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Several were with them in the Jessamine, and he got a glimpse of the others Tuesday morning. They're impressive, and the field is full at 14 total. It'll be her toughest challenge yet, but that doesn't mean Leonard is planning to be content with hitting the board.

“She ran against 13 horses in the Jessamine too,” he said. “I like to be optimistic. I'm here to win. I don't aim for second or third, I want to win. I think if everything goes right, we have a good chance to win if everything works for her.”

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