It was the fifth grade II victory for the Bruce Headley trained Surf Cat, a 6-year-old co-owned by Headley's wife, Aase, and Marsha Naify.
Stalking the leaders in fifth for jockey Alex Solis, Surf Cat was able to take advantage of a pace duel between Greg's Gold and favored Johnny Eves. He finished fast from the middle of the track under strong urging after Greg's Gold had edged away from favored Johnny Eves leaving the eighth pole.
The winning time for the seven-furlong event on Santa Anita's synthetic track was 1:21.62.
Hero of the San Carlos two years ago, Surf Cat was winless in four prior starts since taking the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) in May 2006. Surf Cat was injured shortly after that race and was sidelined for nearly 14 months. He tuned up for this year's San Carlos with a third-place finish in the six-furlong Palos Verdes Handicap (gr. II) Jan. 21, a lackluster four lengths behind In Summation.
"It's really nice getting him back into form," said Solis, Headley's number one rider for many years. "He's such a good horse."
It was the fifth San Carlos win for Headley, who had a pacemaker operation last year. He said Surf Cat was a little slow coming around this season because of inclement weather in Southern California, coupled with the troubled condition of Santa Anita's synthetic racing surface.
"Because of all the rain and other stuff, I missed a couple of works with him and it showed in the (Palos Verdes)," Headley said. "He was ready this time."
Johnny Eves, winner of the seven-furlong Malibu Stakes (gr. I) on the meeting's opening day, was away cleanly to get the early lead over Cooperation with the gray Greg's Gold, ridden by Victor Espinoza, quickly working his way up between horses to press the leaders. But the pace was not quick compared to some of the fractions that have been seen on the hard racing surface, :23.30 for the opening quarter mile and :45.63 for the half.
The 7-year-old Greg's Gold, also a grade I winner, matched strides on the outside with Johnny Eves into the lane and began to edge away from his younger challenger approaching the eighth pole. Six furlongs went in 1:09.35. But after taking command late, Greg's Gold was tiring and could not hold off Surf Cat, who was under vigorous handling from Solis rounding the turn. Surf Cat seemed to find a new gear at the top of the lane to win impressively.
Soul City Slew, with Michael Baze aboard, got up late for third over Johnny Eves, ridden for the first time by Rafael Bejarano. After his superb win in the Malibu, Johnny Eves was coming off a runner-up finish in the San Fernando Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 12, losing in the final stride at his first try at 1 1/16 miles.
Surf Cat is still seeking his first grade I win. He came closest when beaten by a head in last year's Triple Bend Handicap (gr. I) by Bilo at Hollywood Park. His second San Carlos win, worth $90,000, increased the Kentucky-bred Sir Cat horse's earnings to $795,420. The always consistent dark bay has an overall record of 8-5-1 in 16 starts. He won for the first time in four tries on a synthetic surface.
William Taylor Nicholls and Gainsway Farm bred Surf Cat, who is out of the Centrust mare Trust Greta.
Sent off as the second choice in the field of seven, Surf Cat carried 118 pounds to victory and paid $7, $3.40, and $2.80. Greg's Gold, the 119-pound highweight for trainer David Hofmans, returned $4 and $3 and completed a $2 exacta worth $23.60. Soul City Slew, who ran fourth in the Palos Verdes for trainer Mike Mitchell, may not have gotten the pace he was looking for and was $3.60 to show. He finished 1 1/4 lengths behind Greg's Gold.
Johnny Eves, the 19-10 select, was a length further behind, followed by Circular Quay, Men Only, and Cooperation.
Circular Quay, a Triple Crown contender last year for trainer Todd Pletcher, was squeezed at the start and was not a factor his first race since last July.