Three-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert is on top of the game again after Preachinatthebar narrowly won the $250,000 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Sunday, Baffert's second major Derby prep win in the past week.
Preachinatthebar, a gray son of Baffert's 1997 Kentucky Derby (gr I) winner Silver Charm
, held off 13-10 favorite St Averil by a diminishing nose in a time of 1:42 4/5 for the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe. It was 4 1/2 lengths back to Harvard Avenue in third.
Baffert's Wimbledon, another late-developing gray colt, was a convincing winner of the March 7 Louisiana Derby (gr. II).
Mike Pegram, who campaigned 1998 Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet with Baffert, bred and owns Preachinatthebar.
Action This Day, the juvenile champion of 2003, weakened and finished seventh, his second out-of-the-money performance in a row.
The race was complicated when 60-1 Laditude stumbled coming out of the gate and dumped Mike Smith. The loose horse caused problems for several horses. Jockey Javier Santiago, aboard Preachinatthebar, said the horse's presence made it difficult for him to get his high-strung colt to relax in the early part of the race.
But Preachinatthebar was able to settle into a stalking position while off the rail behind stablemate Odds On, who was full of energy early while leading through an opening quarter mile of :23 1/5 and a half in :46 4/5. Preachin' moved up on the outside of Odds On to take a short lead on the far turn.
He edged clear in the stretch by a 1 1/2 lengths and held on gamely in the final furlong under left-handed urging over a determined St Averil, who was ridden by Tyler Baze to a tremendous conclusion.
"I was taking my time with him," Baffert said. "He was a little bit late coming around but he ran like we thought he would. He got a little rank. He went after Odds On ... Santiago said the loose horse (Latitude) made him go and that's why he made that move a little bit early.
"I thought he was going to run a big race. Santiago had to make that early run at Odds On and that's probably why he looked like he was getting caught at the end. But that loose horse was sort of messing things up for us.
"I'm just happy for Mike Pegram. It's been a little dry for us lately but I told him I still have a lot of faith in this horse. He's starting to fill out and you don't know how exciting it is to win a stake with (a) Silver Charm. He's going to be a great sire. I love that horse."
Santiago, a 26-year-old rider from Puerto Rico, broke in at Santa Anita on Feb. 4 with agent Tony Matos.
"(Today's race) was the way we planned it, being close to the pace," he said through a translator. "Baffert wanted the other horse on the lead. I had a relaxed position coming to the first turn, and I saw the horse (Laditude) coming in inside of me, and my horse got bumped and took off on me. I had to gear him down again, and continue riding my own race."
Santiago also rides Wimbledon.
Baze blamed interference from the loose horse for St Averil's loss.
"Mike Smith's horse cost me the race. That's it. I was five-wide at the turn. I still thought I won it."
St Averil was four wide into the first turn but stayed close to the pace throughout, making a wide bid in the stretch to just miss.
Harvard Avenue was reserved early for Jon Court, angling out in the stretch to outfinish Cheiron by a length for third.
Last Minute Detail was fifth, followed by Odds On, Action This Day (the 5-2 second choice) and Toasted. Boss Nass and Rush Into Heaven scratched.
Mandella said Action This Day ran into problems early.
"When he went into the first turn there was some jamming and he's got a big gash behind his ankle on his right hind leg," he said. "We just have to hope it's not too bad."
Preachinatthebar has shown an improving pattern since breaking his maiden Dec. 17. He was jumped into stakes company, running fourth to St Averil in the Santa Catalina (gr. II) Jan. 17, although he lost by only 3 1/2 lengths. He closed well to be third in the Sham Feb. 8, losing by a length to Master David.
The winner of two of seven career starts, Preachinatthebarr is out of the Silver Deputy
mare Holy Nola, named for a popular Southern California track bartender, Nola Ferraro. The victory, worth $150,000, tripled his career earnings to $201,588.
"We've known (Ferraro) for the last 12 years and she's a born-again Christian," Baffert said. "We named Holy Nola after her and when this foal was born, that's where he (Pegram) got the name, Preachinatthebar because when you go to Nola you get a drink you get a little bit of a blessing at the same time."
The fourth choice in a field of nine, Preachinatthebar paid $19.20, $6.60 and $4.60. St Averil returned $3.20 and $2.80. Harvard Avenue's show was $5.20. The $2 exacta was worth $50.20.