Unheralded Buddy Gil and jockey Gary Stevens came out of nowhere to hold off a flying Atswhatimtalknbout by a nostril in Sunday's $250,000 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita.
By winning a major prep for the April 5 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), a new face arrives in the sophomore picture, even though the Eastern Echo gelding isn't nominated for the Triple Crown. Trainer Jeff Mullins said he plans to enter Buddy Gil in the Santa Anita Derby and would lobby owners Desperado Stables, breeder Donny McFadden and their partners to make a late nomination to the Triple Crown series. The winning time for the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe on a track labeled "good" was 1:43 3/5.
"You've got to give the horse a chance to prove himself," Mullins said.
Stevens was able to save ground with Buddy Gil and moved off the rail in mid-stretch, edged past longshots Logician and Brancusi inside of the sixteenth pole and was all out to nip Atswhatimtalknbout and David Flores at the wire. Brancusi, who appeared to be home free with jockey Tony Farina holding a two-length lead nearing the wire, held on for third, a half-length behind the first two.
"I felt like I was on a 3-5 shot, not a 12-1," Stevens said. "He really gave me what I wanted and put himself right into the 3-year-old picture. Actually, I thought (Flore's) horse had won and I congratulated him after the wire. Jeff (Mullins) thought we'd won, and I had to tell him I didn't think so."
Flores said there will be better things in store from Atswhatimtalknbout.
"I thought he won but it almost didn't matter because we know what we've got," Flores said. "He galloped out so strong I almost couldn't pull him up. He wants more distance. The more, the better. I think you'll see a different script in the Santa Anita Derby."
Farina, too, was encouraged by Brancusi's effort.
"My horse ran green but Patrick (Biancone) and I both think he got a lot out of this race," Farina said. "We wanted to see how he would do against good horses. He showed he belongs."
Favorites Domestic Dispute, at 2-1 with Jerry Bailey aboard, and Man Among Men, at 5-2 with Alex Solis, were unplaced. Domestic Dispute made a big move on the turn and was in position to win in the stretch, but flattened out to be fifth. Man Among Men was no factor after a slow break. Ten Cents A Shine, in his first start for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, was rank early and finished eighth.
"This gives me one less option for the Kentucky Derby," Bailey said afterward. "This horse stumbled a little at the start, and traveled wide in the backstretch, but he flattened out when I thought he'd be moving into contention."
"We're still trying to figure this horse out (Domestic Dispute) and I guess we haven't yet," said trainer Bob Baffert. "I don't know where we'll go from here."
Siblerland gave the closers something to shoot at as he dictated the early pace in quarter-mile splits of :22 4/5, :46 2.5 and 1:10 4/5 with Logician and Brancusi in close attendance. Buddy Gil was well back but saving ground while Atswhatimtalknbout fell out to last in the 10-horse field. In the stretch, Stevens angled Buddy Gil off the rail and was in close quarters with Logician, who was fourth, finally edging by him. The winner had enough left to get past Brancusi in the final stages and hold off Atswhatimtalknbout, who was picking off his rivals one by one while flying down the middle of the track.
Buddy Gil was coming off of a two-length win in the Baldwin Stakes (gr. IIIT) on the downhill 6 1/2-furlong turf course at Santa Anita on Feb. 23, his first graded stakes win. Overall, he has a record of 4-1-1 in eight tries. He earned $150,000 for his owners, more than doubling his earnings to about $280,000.
The winner was bred in Kentucky by Billingsley Creek Ranch.
Sent off at 9-1, Buddy Gil paid $21.60, $7.20 and $5.20. Atswhatimtalknbout, making his first start for his new part-owners Biscuit Stable, returned $4 and $4. Brancusi, 45-1, paid $13.20 to show. The $2 exacta was $99.60. A $1 superfecta, with 90-1 Logician in the fourth spot, was worth $17,749.40.
Stevens as a leading role in the upcoming Seabiscuit film and was joked that the new 'Ats' partners, which include part-producer Steven Spielberg and writer/director Gary Ross, were going to write him out of the movie script for beating them Sunday.
"(Ross) wrote the script for Seabiscuit, but he didn't write the script for this race," Stevens said. "So I took matters into my own hands."