Magnum, a close second to Lava Man in the 2006 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), should get a second chance at the Big 'Cap after his sharp upset win in the $200,000 San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO) at Santa Anita Feb. 8.
The 8-year-old Argentine-bred, recently gelded because of a testicle problem, overtook loose pacesetter Well Armed at the sixteenth pole and went on to a one-length victory. Hot jockey Joel Rosario kept the 16-1 shot Magnum close to a dawdling pace and patiently got the most out of his charge to win while edging away in the final strides. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile Pro-Ride test was 1:49.14.
Well Armed held for second by 2 1/4 lengths over favored Tiago, the third-place finisher making his first start since running third in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita Oct. 25.
Trained by Darrell Vienna for Bill and Donna Mae Herrick, Magnum missed all of 2007 and much of 2008 due to physical problems. The victory in the San Antonio was his first since the Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III) May 29, 2006. Magnum had lost eight straight since then.
Vienna said the son of El Compinche would probably head for the $1 million Big 'Cap March 7.
"It sure looks like he’ll go on to the Big ’Cap, but you never know what’s in store," Vienna said.
The trainer added: "I think (Magnum) particularly likes this race course. It's so gratifying to have a horse you've had around for so long come back around. Joel did a beautiful job."
Magnum was out of action for nearly six months before returning with a third-place finish in the San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II) Jan. 10, closing well from mid-pack to get the show spot by a neck over Well Armed.
Vienna said that gelding Magnum was necessary in order to alleviate a complicated problem caused by an undescended testicle.
"The only chance we had for him to continue running was to geld him, or to stop (racing him) because it was hurting him too much," Vienna said of the veteran campaigner. "We gelded him a few months before his last race."
In the San Antonio, Rosario settled Magnum into second as Well Armed, ridden by Aaron Gryder, went to the lead from the outside. The front-runner slowed things to a crawl, going the first quarter-mile in :25.26 and the half :49.54 but had opened up a lead of more than three lengths. Well Armed maintained his advantage through six furlongs in 1:13.92, and, if anything, appeared to be widening as they hit the stretch. Rosario, though, went to work on Magnum, who stalked in second all the way around with Tiago shadowing him.
Magnum angled out in the lane and gradually cut into the advantage, catching the tiring Well Armed in deep stretch while finishing with authority.
"My horse was very comfortable," said Rosario, a native of the Dominican Republic who turned 21 Jan. 14. Rosario rode Magnum for the first time in the San Antonio, replacing Martin Pedroza, who is sidelined after breaking his pelvis in a fall last month.
Gryder said that Well Armed lost nothing in defeat. The narrow second choice in the field of eight, Well Armed has now lost three in a row since his win in Oak Tree's Goodwood Stakes (gr. I) last fall.
"That last eighth of a mile, I heard the other horse coming," he said. "But I won't make excuses for my horse. This was a great effort for him. I was really happy with the way he finished up. We were just second best today."
Tiago ran well in his return while offering only a mild bid along the inside for jockey Mike Smith. Champs Elysees, the third millionaire in the field coming off a win in the Dec. 6 Hollywood Turf Cup Stakes (gr. IT), trailed most of the way and never rallied, finishing seventh with Garrett Gomez aboard.
The victory, worth $120,000, was Magnum's sixth in 26 starts and boosted his earnings to $819,249. La Quebrada bred the dark bay or brown gelding, who is out of the Rainbow Corner mare Merrymaker.
In Magnum's previous try in the Santa Anita Handicap two years ago, he ran second by three-quarters of a length to Lava Man at odds of 17-1.
The winner carried 114 pounds to victory and paid $35.80, $11.60, and $5, topping a $2 exacta worth $155.40. Well Armed, who is being prepared for a possible return to the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) March 28, returned $4.40 and $3.20. Well Armed ran third in the World Cup last year. Tiago, who ran fourth in last year's Santa Anita Handicap and is expected to return, was $2.60 to show.
“I thought he ran great," trainer John Shirreffs said of Tiago. "He made a nice run at the end, and he should move forward from that.”
Dakota Phone and Informed finished in a dead-heat for fourth. Marchfield, Champs Elysees, and Racketeer trailed. There were three scratches -- Ferneley, Becrux, and Stream Cat.