The tactics differed but the results remained the same for favored Aggie Engineer, who used a stalking trip to capture the $150,000 San Pasqual Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 8 (VIDEO) in his first start on Santa Anita Park's new dirt track.
Aggie Engineer stole the Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) on the front end at Hollywood Park in December, but that option disappeared when Red Door Drive caught a flyer out of the gate and set a quick pace for the distance. Aggie Engineer stalked in third behind Ryehill Dreamer after angling to the outside for jockey Joe Talamo, and came home best of all to win easily by 3 1/4 lengths.
"I either wanted to be on an easy lead, or have somebody go," Talamo said. "I really didn’t want a speed duel at all. The tactics today were great. Two horses went to the lead and he stayed right off. He’s such a professional horse in the way he relaxes and does things so easy. It was just a great race.”
Ward and Roberta Williford's homebred 6-year-old son of E Dubai is now on a three-race winning streak. With the victory, the good-looking chestnut gelding became one of the favorites for this year's Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 5.
“It turned out that he didn’t have to be on the lead (to win) today," said winning trainer Paddy Gallagher, who was unsure of Aggie Engineer's next start.
Second choice Dakota Phone, expected to rebound from his fourth-place effort in the Native Diver with a return to dirt here, never fired under top weight of 123 pounds in spite of an improved pace scenario and finished fifth. He was beaten by 3 1/2 lengths for it all.
In his last start on dirt, the late-running Dakota Phone captured the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) by nose at 37-1 at Churchill Downs.
Red Door Drive led the field of six out of the gate, opening an early 3 1/2-length lead while clicking off swift quarter-mile fractions of :23.30, :47.67, and 1:11.55 with Ryehill Dreamer pushing closer in second. Aggie Engineer, who broke evenly at the rail for Talamo, soon angled toward the outside and was perfectly positioned to commence his bid on the pacesetters down the backstretch.
Aggie Engineer challenged on the outside at the quarter pole and gained a short advantage at the three-sixteenths mark, lengthening his lead under urging in the final furlong. Spurrier rallied three-wide in the lane to fight it out with the stalking Quindici Man and Red Door Drive for second.
Aggie Engineer registered his first graded-stakes score in the 1 1/8-mile Native Diver Dec. 4. He also won a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming test during the Oak Tree meet at Hollywood Park prior to that.
A four-time winner in seven starts at Santa Anita (previously racing on the synthetic Pro-Ride surface), his overall record now stands at 7-4-2 in 17 races with earnings of $358,280.
“Right when we broke I kind of looked over just to see what was happening," Talamo said. "I saw those two horses go, so right away I got him outside. Man, he ran like a real nice horse today. We won an allowance race at Hollywood Park where he sat off, so there was never really a doubt, and he really did it nice today."
The winner is out of the Dixieland Band mare Papalma.
Sent off at 17-10, Aggie Engineer carried 118 pounds and paid $5.40, $3.40, and $2.80. Spurrier, also second to Aggie Engineer in the Native Diver for trainer Bob Baffert, returned $3.40 and $2.60 and completed a $17.80 exacta. Quindici Man paid $3.80 to show as the longest shot on the board at 15-1.
Ryehill Dreamer trailed.