Trainer Bob Baffert has a new turf star in German-bred Sabiango, who tallied a three-quarters of a length victory for new owner Monty Roberts in Saturday's $350,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT) on the Hollywood Park turf.
Roberts, the basis of two books and a movie, is known as "Horse Whisperer." Whatever he and Baffert have been telling their 6-year-old son of Acatenango, it worked Saturday.
In his second United States start, Sabiango, sent off at odds of 13-1, went gate to wire for jockey Tyler Baze to win comfortably over Irish-bred Bayamo, who nosed Just Wonder for second. The winning time for the 1 1/4-mile Whittingham on a firm turf was 2:01 2/5.
"I'm just glad that Monty let us into it," Baffert said. "To be associated with the original horse whisperer. I was watching Monty, I was going to see if he whispered anything into his ear or anything like that ... but it's a good win. When I first got into training horses, I never thought the Charlie Whittingham would be on my resume, I mean, a mile and a quarter on the turf. "
Sabiango, making his 2004 debut under 116 pounds, jumped to the lead and slowed things down immediately, clicking off fractional times of :25 4/5, :50 3/5 and 1:15. He opened up a three-length advantage in the stretch and won under strong urging as Bayamo and Just Wonder cut into the lead with every stride.
"It takes him a while to get going, so I thought let's just go," Baze said. "The horse is just awesome, the way he accelerated around the turn. The way he took off, I have not had that feeling in a long time. Just the joy, I was overwhelmed. I almost wanted to cry.
"This has to be the biggest race I've ever won. Monty Roberts was overwhelmed afterward. When I met him this morning, I said, 'You must be The Horse Whisperer.' He laughed a little bit, and is just a real nice guy. I'd really like to go hang out with him some time, maybe go to dinner with him one day."
Baffert said he wanted to find a softer spot for Sabiango's first Southern California start.
"We were going to look for a prep race for him, but our allowance races are just as tough as our stakes races sometimes, so I thought why not take a shot," Baffert said. "I told Monty that they can either go a mile and a quarter or they can't. This horse, he looks great, he's training great ... and turf races you don't have to have them that fit, not as much as dirt."
Favored Continuously, making his first start since Feb. 16 for trainer Bobby Frankel, was last of 11 much of the way and was never a factor for Alex Solis, finishing sixth. Irish Warrior, ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr. for Wally Dollase, was pulled up in the stretch and vanned off.
Sabiango, a two-time group I winner in his native Germany, recorded his first victory since taking the Deutschlandpreis (Ger-I) at Dusseldorf July 27. He was coming off a 14th-place finish in the Hong Kong Vase (HK-I) at Sha Tin in December. Prior to that, he was fifth in the Canadian International (Can-I) at Woodbine and fourth in Belmont Turf Classic (gr. IT) after transferring from Germany.
The victory, his sixth in 16 lifetime outings, was worth $210,000 and pushed his career earnings to $704,333.
Roberts said Sabiango had to overcome problems with his feet and immune system.
"This horse has had so much trouble in his life," he said. "And he really never had the chance that he needed. His brother, Silvano, won the (2001) Arlington Million and Silvano is not as good a horse as this horse is. But he's had unbelievable trouble in his life and he really needed the breaks that he got here."
Sabiango paid $28.80, $14.60 and $12. Bayamo, ridden by David Flores, returned $9.20 and $6. Just Wonder, Mike Smith aboard, was $8.80 to show.
Vangelis, who carried top weight of 117 pounds, finished fourth, followed by Continental Red, Continuously, Musical Chimes, Seinne, Gassan Royal and Hawkeye.