Santa Anita will feature a quartet of stakes on Saturday, two of which are graded contests leading up to the Breeders' Cup World Championships next month.
The Grade 1, $250,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (formerly Ancient Title) will give defending champion and reigning Eclipse Award-winning sprinter Amazombie one more run before he seeks yet another title defense, this time in the Breeders' Cup Sprint on November 3. Earlier on the card, Mr. Commons could use the Grade 2, $150,000 Arroyo Seco Mile (formerly Oak Tree Mile) as a stepping-stone to one more try in the Breeders' Cup Mile, a race he finished fifth in last season following a second in the Oak Tree Mile.
Amazombie is the star on Saturday at Santa Anita and will keep jockey Mike Smith aboard for his fifth run of the year. The Northern Afleet six-year-old has won or placed in all four starts thus far this season, the most recent of which came as a 1 1/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby at Del Mar. The Bill Spawr trainee also repeated in the Grade 2 Potrero Grande in his last appearance at Santa Anita on April 17, with a second in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes sandwiched between those two.
Amazombie opened the year with a third in the Grade 2 San Carlos after closing out his 2011 championship season in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. He'll try to end 2012 in the same fashion but first has to face six rivals in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship.
The champion's biggest rivals on Saturday appear to be Capital Account, Camp Victory and Coil. Capital Account was third by just 1 1/4 lengths in the Bing Crosby two back, then returned to take the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien by a half-length over Coil. The five-year-old son of Closing Argument actually made his stakes bow in the Bing Crosby, and has really come on in his five races this year. David Flores has the mount on the Bob Baffert trainee.
Unlike Capital Account, Camp Victory is no stranger to graded company, having made his last 10 starts against such foes. In those 10 races, the Forest Camp five-year-old has finished off-the-board only once, with that coming in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. He's done much better on synthetic and main tracks, racking up wins in the Grade 1 Triple Bend and Grade 3 Los Angeles. Camp Victory was third in the Pat O'Brien and Potrero Grande this year, and will do his best to turn the tables on the winners of those races this time around.
Coil has finished worse than third only once in his 10-race career, with that coming at 10 furlongs in last year's Grade 1 Travers. The Point Given four-year-old has made just two starts this season, winning an optional claimer on July 26 before returning exactly one month later to be second in the Pat O'Brien. Both of those races came at Del Mar going seven furlongs, but he is two-for-two at six furlongs as well. Coil could get the best of stablemate Capital Account in this one.
A wildcard in the race is the three-year-old filly Reneesgotzip. Trained by Peter Miller, the City Zip miss was second in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks in late March, but has captured her two races since then, including the C.E.R.F. at Del Mar in her return from a four-month layoff most recently. Jimmy Creed, second in the El Cajon, and last-out optional claimer scorer Castletown complete the Santa Anita Sprint Championship field.
Mr. Commons will only have to take on four rivals in the Arroyo Seco Mile, but one them happens to be the horse who held him by a nose in the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile Handicap last out. That runner, Obviously, has captured his past two races and will seek to make it three-in-a-row on Saturday.
The Irish-bred Obviously was making his graded debut in the Del Mar Mile and the Choisir gelding let gate-to-wire as the even-money favorite. Prior to that first stakes score the bay four-year-old posted a five-length victory against optional claiming rivals at Del Mar. He'll keep jockey Joe Talamo in the irons while going for his second black-type win.
Mr. Commons, on the other hand, was making his 12th straight appearance against stakes rivals in the Del Mar Mile, having previously captured the Grade 2 Arcadia, Grade 2 Sir Beaufort and Oceanside. The Artie Schiller four-year-old ran extremely well to be fifth behind Court Vision, Turallure, multiple European champion and highweight Goldikova, and three-time Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti in the Breeders' Cup Mile last November, and could wind up in the winner's circle in the Arroyo Seco Mile if he runs back to that form. Brice Blanc has the call on the John Shirreffs charge.
Trail Blazer is an unknown in the race, as the Japanese-bred son of Zenno Rob Roy makes his first appearance stateside. A multiple Grade 2 winner in his native land, the five-year-old will be getting first-time Lasix for his American bow under Yutaka Take.
Grade 3 winner Kettle Corn and last year's Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby victor Midnight Interlude finish out the field in the Arroyo Seco Mile.
Also on Saturday at Santa Anita, 11 distaffers will contest a mile on the turf in the $70,000 Swingtime while seven juveniles are set to go six furlongs in the $100,000 Tim Conway. Grade 3-placed multiples stakes queen Cathy's Crunches is the top draw in the Swingtime while Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity third Scherer Magic highlights the Tim Conway.