There was considerable attention paid prior to the San Felipe about the three favorites having never raced in a route event. But as the field pounded toward the wire, it was that trio of sprinters -- Georgie Boy, Gayego and Bob Black Jack -- leading the parade.
Ridden by Michael Baze -- subbing for the injured Rafael Bejarano -- Georgie Boy was hesitant to change from his right lead while charging from the outside down the stretch at Gayego and Bob Black Jack. But he surged in the final few strides to win by three-quarters of a length over a stubborn Gayego, ridden by Mike Smith. Bob Black Jack, who also fought gamely from the inside, held third, one length behind the runner-up for David Flores.
The final time for the 1 1/16-mile synthetic track test was 1:42.35. The race was run between cloud bursts on a windy late afternoon in Southern California.
George Schwary's homebred gelding Georgie Boy registered his third consecutive victory for trainer Kathy Walsh since taking last summer's Del Mar Futurity (gr. I). The dark bay gelding began his 3-year-old campaign with a 3 1/4-length win in the seven-furlong San Vicente (gr. II) Feb. 10.
The veteran trainer Walsh had insisted this week that Georgie Boy, because of his relaxed way of going, would have no difficulty stretching out, though she admitted she couldn't know for sure. That was good enough for the bettors, who sent Georgie Boy off at odds of 7-5.
That despite Georgie Boy losing his San Vicente rider, Bejarano, who suffered two compressed vertebrae in a fall March 13. Walsh said it came down to Baze and Victor Espinoza to replace Bejarano. In the end, she went with Baze, who rode Georgie Boy in his first race to a third-place finish against maidens last June at Hollywood Park.
"They're both great, fine riders. We just went with the fact that Michael had been on the horse (for workouts) quite a bit last spring but only got to ride him in a race once," Walsh said. "That, and I knew Michael had all the faith in the world in him."
Walsh felt she made the right call.
"(Baze) had so much horse all the way around," she said. "He was a little keen going up to the backside, and I was kind of wanting him to be a little more relaxed off the bit, and (Baze) got him to settle a little. When he got to the quarter pole, he was just waiting for a spot. He had no place to go, and he’s a smart enough horse he wasn’t going to run up on horses’ heels. Michael did a nice job on him.”
Georgie Boy found himself quite a bit closer to the leaders than usual, tugging along the inside in third place behind a plodding pace (:24.24, :48.75, 1:13.02) established by Bob Black Jack. Gayego, who was switched off the rail by Smith soon after leaving the gate, never gave the pacesetter a breather and was ready to pounce rounding the bend. Gayego got the lead at the top of the lane and gradually edged away from Bob Black Jack. But Georgie Boy, who had to angle off the rail in close quarters, closed in quickly and Bob Black Jack fought back along the inside. Baze appeared to briefly consider trying to split the first two in approaching mid-stretch as Georgie Boy drifted inward, but instead they went wide. The trio spread across the track near the eighth pole, but Georgie Boy had the final say. The final sixteenth of a mile was run in 5 4/5 seconds.
"Around the far turn I just had to wait, wait, wait and at the top of the lane, I was able to swing out and say ‘Goodbye'," Baze said. "He really impressed me more after we hit the wire. I had a harder time pulling him up than I did during the race. I didn’t get him pulled up until the five-eighths pole.”
Baze said Georgie Boy is "dramatically" improved over last spring. "He's filled out nice. He's just an awesome horse."
Schwary said he and Walsh would decide between the April 5 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) and the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) a week later.
"Then, we'll see," he said.
Out of the Peterhof mare Ippodamia, Georgie Boy has never been out of the money in seven starts, winning four times. He has banked $496,806 after collecting the San Felipe winner's share of $120,000.
Georgie Boy carried 117 pounds to victory, paying $4.80, $3.20 and $2.60.
Gayego, making his graded stakes debut for trainer Paulo Lobo after winning the 6 1/2-furlong San Pedro by 2 3/4 lengths, ran too good to lose but returned $4.60 and $3.40. The $2 exacta was worth $18.80.
"I’m really happy with the way he ran," Smith said. "He’s going to get a lot out of this race. He just got a little tired at the end.”
Bob Black Jack, who set a world record (1:06.53) for six furlongs in the Sunshine Millions Dash Jan. 26, was $3 to show.
"I’m a little disappointed, but that’s the way it goes," trainer James Kasparoff said.
It was 5 1/2 lengths to Indian Sun in fourth, followed by Chop House George, High Stakes Silver, Southwest Shediak and Go for Cover.