Making his first start for last year's Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winning trainer John Shirreffs, overlooked A.P. Warrior came to life Saturday under new jockey Corey Nakatani, turning back Point Determined late for a half-length victory in the $250,000 San Felipe (gr. II) for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita.
Stan Fulton's $1.3 million son of A.P. Indy
closed from four wide on the outside to wrest the lead from Refinery in the stretch and showed strong determination to record his first graded stakes win.
The time for the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe was 1:42 2/5. A.P. Warrior was coming off back-to-back fourth-place finishes in the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) and El Camino Real Derby (gr. III), where he was an 11-10 favorite Jan. 29 at Bay Meadows for former trainer Eoin Harty.
Shirreffs said the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) at 1 1/8 miles on April 8 would be next for A.P. Warrior.
"We're not looking to go on the road," he said. "We'll stay home."
Ridden for the first time by Nakatani, the 7-1 shot A.P. Warrior carried 119 pounds, three less than the high-weighted Bob and John, the even-money choice in the field of nine. Bob and John raced well back for the first three-quarters of a mile, made a smooth move on the turn while widest of all, but could not sustain his effort in the drive. He nipped Racketeer for third while a couple of lengths behind his Bob Baffert-trained stablemate, Point Determined.
Nakatani said he has been trying to gain the mount on A.P. Warrior since last fall.
"Although this was my first time on him, I had been on him in the morning, and he worked unbelievable for me," he said. "He showed me then that he was a better horse than what he had been doing in the afternoon.
Simon Pure set the pace (:22 3/5, :46 2/5 and 1:10 1/5) as Racketeer, Refinery, and A.P. Warrior, along the inside, jockeyed for position behind him heading into the far turn. A.P. Warrior angled wide on the turn and was under strong urging by Nakatani as he battled for command nearing the furlong marker. Point Determined, moving up along the inside for Garrett Gomez, lacked room briefly in the stretch but was able to maneuver between horses and seriously challenged for the lead in the late stages. But A.P. Warrior had something left and was edging away at the wire.
"When (Point Determined) came to me, he pinned his ears and dug in like I thought he would," Nakatani said. "And he is a very, very versatile horse. I don't think he has to be up there close where he was today. I was four or five behind, just tracking them, and he was doing it all on his own. I could not have been more pleased with the way he was traveling underneath me. He was relaxed. I really think the sky is the limit with this horse. I'm excited."
Gomez said Point Determined was at a disadvantage by being stuck on the inside.
"I still thought for a moment that I was going to win when I cut him loose," Gomez said. "He kicked in another gear, and I thought he was going to run by there. I think, though, that Corey's horse felt him coming, and my horse kind of flattened out a little, too. But this was a good stepping-stone for the next adventure he's going to encounter. Overall, he had a good performance and, like Bob Baffert said, we're still in the game."
The victory was the third in seven tries for the dark bay colt, which more than doubled his career earnings to $287,185. Bred in Kentucky by Jim Fleming, A.P. Warrior is out of the Quiet American
mare Warrior Queen.
A.P. Warrior paid $17, $7.40, and $3.60.
Point Determined, the Beverly Lewis-owned son of Point Given
making his stakes debut for Baffert, returned $5.20 and $3, completing a $65.20 exacta.
Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Bob and John, in his first start for Baffert since registering a 4 1/2-length win in the Sham (gr. III) Feb. 4, was $2.40 to show.
"I kind of lost my position right out of the gate," Espinoza said. "We got bumped a little bit, and my horse kind of lost his balance. So he jumped a little bit further back than I wanted. But he was running good at the end. There was just a little too much ground to make up.
"I think it turned out to be a good experience for him, getting dirt kicked in his face and all. It didn't seem to bother him. He'll be ready for the next one. I'm not disappointed at all."
Baffert said he was satisfied with the performances of Point Determined and Bob and John. His third horse in the field, Sky Diving, finished ninth.
"I just want to stay in the game right now," Baffert said.