Front-running Fusaichi Rock Star responded when challenged at the quarter pole and pulled away in the stretch to win the $150,000 San Vicente (gr. II) for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita Sunday.
The longest shot in the compact field of four at odds of 7-1, David Flores guided the Bob Baffert-trained gray/roan son of Wild Wonder
to a one-length win over the fast-closing Don't Get Mad. The time for the seven-furlong San Vicente was 1:22 2/5 on a track rated wet fast.
Baffert scratched morning line favorite Roman Ruler with a quarter-crack and won the race anyway. It was the first stakes win for the Florida-bred Fusaichi Rock Star.
"We did a surgery on (Fusaichi Rock Star), a myectomy," Baffert said. "He was having trouble with his throat. He would displace real easy. It would happen when he got excited."
Grade I winner Consolidator, the even-money favorite trained by D. Wayne Lukas, faded to last after challenging on the outside of Fusaichi Rock Star and Kirkendahl coming off the turn. Consolidator made his first start since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) Oct. 30.
Like Scipion, Saturday's winner of the Risen Star (gr. III) at Fair Grounds, the well regarded Fusaichi Rock Star rebounded strongly in his first start after a disappointing 2-year-old campaign. Purchased by Fusao Sekiguchi, who campaigned 2000 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Fusaichi Pegasus, for $825,000 at Fasig-Tipton a year ago, Fusaichi Rock Star ran fifth of six as the 6-5 favorite in the Belmont Futurity (gr. I) in his third career start Sept. 19. He finished fourth of five in his final start of the year, Belmont's Cowdin, a month later.
Sunday, Fusaichi Rock Star wrestled the lead from Kirkendahl, who broke best, and settled down to an opening quarter mile of :23 1/5. He pushed his advantage to a couple of lengths after a half in :46 2/5. When Kirkendahl, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, soon joined by Consolidator and Victor Espinoza, moved to challenge rounding the turn, Fusaichi Rock Star kicked on again and had firm control after five furlongs in 1:10 1/5.
"He's had a big layoff and he was fresh," Flores said. "The biggest concern was his breathing and he was pretty much in a nice and easy pace, which was a good advantage to save a little horse and finish. And he responded really, really strong in the end, just the way we wanted him too.
"If he can just learn how to relax and get by the first part he can compete with good horses," Flores added.
Don't Get Mad, who tailed off the pace soon after the start for Tyler Baze and was a half-dozen lengths behind the winner most of the way, was still last with a furlong left. But he came running along the inside in the final sixteenth, cutting into the lead with every stride. He was ahead of Fusaichi Rock Star several yards past the wire.
Baze said he wanted to fall farther back and make one big move with Don't Get Mad, but the pace was too slow.
"I only hit him once," Baze said. "This horse is unbelievable."
Undefeated in his two lifetime starts in Kentucky last year, Don't Get Mad, a Stephen Got Even
colt owned by B. Wayne Hughes and trained by Ron Ellis, is expected to show improvement with experience and distance.
Ellis said Don't Get Mad would be aimed at the $250,000 San Felipe (gr. II) at 1 1/16 miles on March 19.
Fusaichi Rock Star ran the final furlong in :12 1/5 under moderate left-handed urging from Flores.
Baffert, who said Roman Ruler is not seriously injured and will remain in training for a potential crack at the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), had the last laugh with Fusaichi Rock Star, who has now won two of five starts. The $90,000 winner's share pushed his earnings to $138,366.
"I was actually going to run him in an allowance race Thursday," Baffert explained. "When Roman Ruler's foot came up and with the rain I thought it might not fill. I said he may be a little short but we better give him a race because the boss man in Japan said, 'If he can make the Derby route, let's give it a try.' I'll stretch him out (in his next start)."
Baffert has now won the San Vicente four times, including 1997 with Silver Charm, another Florida-bred who went on to win that year's Kentucky Derby and came within three-quarters of a length of winning the Triple Crown.
The winner paid $17 and $5.20. Don't Get Mad, the 3-1 third choice, returned $4. The exacta was worth $54.
Hannahill Farm Inc. bred the winner, who was produced by the dam Grannies Feather (At Full Feather).