Unbeaten El Gato Malo took advantage of a blistering pace to register a runaway 6 1/4-length victory in the $150,000 San Rafael Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO) as the 2008 West Coast Triple Crown campaign got underway at Santa Anita Jan. 12.
With the Cushion Track blazing fast, El Gato Malo, ridden for the first time by David Flores, came home in a record time of 1:37.37 for the one-mile distance.
El Gato Malo, winner of his first two starts by a combined margin of nearly 10 lengths, made his graded stakes debut in the San Rafael for trainer Craig Dollase and the partnership of West Point Thoroughbreds.
Massive Drama, the 3-2 favorite in the field of six, was determined to get the lead from his outside post for jockey Rafael Bejarano, surging by Talk of a Cat and Sierra Sunset to get the advantage heading into the clubhouse turn. The Bob Baffert trainee, third in the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) three weeks ago at Hollywood Park, carved eye-catching fractions of :22.25, :44.34 and 1:07.90 with Talk of the Cat in close attendance.
But nearing the quarter pole, all three front-runners were visibly slowing, with the Todd Pletcher conditioned Talk of a Cat the first to throw in the towel. El Gato Malo, racing comfortably while a distant fourth for Flores during the early going, had clear aim on the leaders at the three-sixteenth pole. Rallying down the center of the track, he blew past them mid-stretch while racing somewhat greenly.
"I saw there would be some speed. It was like there were three bullets in there," Flores said. "I was just patient. When we hit the turn, I pushed the button and he was there for me. They were coming back to me and my horse was full of run. When we got the lead, he started looking around. But he was impressive."
El Gato Malo is by El Corredor out of One Bad Cat, by Mountain Cat. Bred in Kentucky by Kenneth C. Roberts, the dark bay gelding sold for $95,000 as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton's Kentucky sale in October 2006.
"I'm still dreaming," said Jeff Bloom, executive vice president for West Point Thoroughbreds. "After the great year we just had, to start off this season with a horse like this is so special. That first Saturday in May is looking pretty promising.”
Ridden in his first two starts by Patrick Valenzuela, El Gato Malo debuted with a 5 1/2-length win in a six-furlong maiden debut at Hollywood Nov. 18. He successfully stretched out to a mile in capturing the Gold Rush at Golden Gate Fields Dec. 15. All three of El Gato Malo's races have been on synthetic surfaces. His earnings jumped to $160,200.
"From day one, he's shown he had it in him," said Dollase, after winning his first San Rafael. "But this was amazing. He's a special horse."
Dollase said El Gato Malo's next race would be the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe (gr. II) at Santa Anita on March 15.
"We’ll probably stick with the program here," Dollase said. "It’s lovely here in California and the track’s good, obviously. He’s the real deal. It doesn’t look like there are any distance limitations for him. He rated so nicely today.”
Sent off as the second choice, El Gato Malo carried 119 pounds to victory and paid $6.80, $4.40, and $2.60.
Cecil Peacock's Indian Sun, ridden by Alex Solis, rallied to take second by three-quarters of a length over Zayat Stables' Massive Drama. Indian Sun, coming off a fifth-place finish in the CashCall Futurity for trainer Dan Hendricks, returned $6.20 and $3 as part of a $2 exacta worth $47.40. Massive Drama, winner of the Hollywood Prevue (gr. III) Nov. 22, was $2.20 to show.
Sierra Sunset, the 122-pound highweight, finished fourth, with Talk of a Cat and Overbid trailing. Spinning Sound scratched.