Michael House's Nazirali, last with a half-mile to run, stormed through the stretch to win the $200,00 San Luis Obispo Handicap (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita Saturday. Under Brice Blanc, the lightly raced 5-year-old gelding completed the 1 1/2 miles in 2:26.09 on firm turf.
"I was a little bit afraid in the post parade because he was getting a little bit wound up," said Blanc. "But as soon as we broke out of the gate, he relaxed nicely, and we had a little bit of pace in the race today. Julio (Canani, trainer) has done a great job of getting the horse to relax, and it worked out well today. I think we've got a good horse for the San Juan Capistrano now because this horse can gallop all day."
In light at 112 pounds, Nazirali benefited from a troubled trip endured by highweight and 3-5 favorite Denon, who was forced to check approaching the stretch.
"Maybe the favorite didn't run his race today, but mine did," said Canani, who took over as Nazirali's trainer last fall. Prior to that, Nazirali raced in France three times, winning once. That win came on heavy turf in a race over 1 3/4 miles, slightly longer than the San Juan Capistrano (gr. IT), for which the San Luis Obispo serves as a prep race. In America, Nazirali has now raced twice, winning in optional claiming/allowance company before finishing second to Little Ghazi in a similar race.
"He's a nice horse," said Canani. "The last time, when Little Ghazi won, he was too rank. Little Ghazi is a nice horse, but leaving the gate he (Nazirali) was pulling, very rank. I've been training him longer; he's been galloping two and a half miles, three miles once a week. He was more settled today."
Continental Red finished second, a neck behind the winner and a neck ahead of third-place Bonapartiste.
"The horse that moved up outside of me at the half-mile pole got my horse into rhythm a little quicker than I wanted to," said Continental Red's rider, Pat Valenzuela. "So I wound up going by the leader on the turn when I thought I'd be sitting behind him, and maybe that wasn't for the best. On the other hand, my horse ran a very good race, and I can't complain. Maybe we'll get 'em in the San Juan (Capistrano) instead."
Bonapartiste finished two lengths clear of Ringsakiddy, who was followed by Denon, Hataab, and Apache Wings.
The Aga Khan's Studs bred Nazirali (Kahyasi -- Naziriya, by Darshaan) in Ireland. His third dam, Val Divine, produced two runners who had success on Southern California turf courses. Her Yashgan (by Hot Grove) won the Oak Tree Invitaional (gr. IT) and San Gabriel (gr. III) Handicaps, and Varadavour (by Lomond) won the Carleton F. Burke (gr. II) and Escondido Handicaps.
Sent off at 7-1, Nazirali returned $16, $7, and $5.20. Continental Red paid $6 and $4.20. Bonapartiste paid $6.40 to show. The exacta paid $86.80. (Chart, Equibase