Looking fresh as a daisy, California Flag humbled his rivals in the $100,000 San Simeon Handicap (gr. IIIT) with a front-running 2 1/4-length victory on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita Park April 21 (VIDEO).
Now 8, the California-bred gelding by Avenue of Flags won the 2009 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint in 2009 and is pointing in that direction again this year when the race returns to the Santa Anita hillside. California Flag was making his first start in the San Simeon since finishing a troubled 12th in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs.
Out of the Afleet mare Ultrafleet, the gray was bred by Hi Card Ranch.
Joe Talamo guided California Flag to victory for trainer Brian Koriner and owners Barbara Card, E-Racing.com, John Fradkin, and Kevin Jacobsen. California Flag won over the hillside turf course for the fifth time in seven tries.
"It brought back memories. It felt just like when we won the Breeders' Cup," Talamo told HRTV after riding California Flag again for the first time since October 2010.
Overlooked at odds of nearly 6-1 in the field of seven, California Flag ran the about 6 1/2-furlong distance in 1:11.59 on firm ground, slightly off the course record of 1:11.13 set by Lennyfromalibu in 2004. Sayif finished second, with 9-5 favorite Compari a non-threatening third.
California Flag came through on the inside of Ain't No Other to get the lead shortly after the start and opened up by about three lengths with an opening quarter-mile of :21.89. California Flag maintained his edge over the Irish-bred Sayif, ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., while clipping the half-mile in a swift :43.25. Under left-handed urging from Talamo, no one could get close to California Flag in the stretch run as he proved much the best.
Sayif held off Compari, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, for the place spot by a half-length. Second choice Irish Art ran on modestly for fourth, followed by Victory Pete, Supreme Summit, and Ain't No Other.
California Flag won for the 11th time in 26 trips to the post while extending his earnings to $1,288,825. His last victory came in the Morvich Stakes (gr. IIIT) on the hillside prior to last year's Breeders' Cup.
"This horse loves to train and he does it all himself," Koriner told HRTV. "When you put him down the hill, it just happens."
Koriner said he would probably space out a couple of more starts to have him ready for the Breeders' Cup Nov. 2-3.
"We love this horse," he said. "If anything were to happen to him, we'd be devastated. But he's really healthy right now."
Sent off as the fourth choice, California Flag carried top weight of 121 pounds and paid $13.80, $7.80, $4.40. Sayif, a 26-1 shot trained by Patrick Biancone, returned $20.20 and $7, and completed a $290 exacta. Compari, who was slightly favored off his third-place finish in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (gr. IT) March 3, paid $2.80.
Gallant Son was scratched.