After two disappointing efforts around two turns seeking a spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), trainer Bob Baffert felt shortening up American Anthem would "sharpen" the Bodemeister colt.
But he was also concerned with the inside draw in the $100,000 Lazaro Barrera Stakes (G3) May 13 at Santa Anita Park, because he felt jockey Mike Smith might have to use American Anthem early.
That concern was put aside rather quickly in the seven-furlong test Saturday, as American Anthem let a trio of frontrunners gun for the lead. Smith got American Anthem off the rail and to the outside in the backstretch and the colt swept by the frontrunners in the final turn. The only concern late was Kimbear—who, like American Anthem, also dialed back from the Santa Anita Derby (G1)—but American Anthem held off the closer and even pulled away late to win by 1 3/4 lengths.
"It was a great game plan on Bob's part," Smith said. "With the one hole, you (usually) want to get out of there running, but he said to ... ride him with a lot of confidence, see if they'll go on away from him, and he'll come running—and it worked."
During the stretch run, however, American Anthem took command. He ran six furlongs in 1:09.26 and hit the wire in 1:22.02.
"We had pace to run at and I was happy with the way the race set up," said Kimbear's jockey, Joe Talamo. "We had the winner in our sights, but he was too much today."
The Barrera was the first graded victory for American Anthem, who now has a 2-1-0 record from five starts and $114,545 in earnings. His other win came on debut in December at Del Mar, where he won a six-furlong maiden special weight race by a neck. The colt is owned by a partnership headed by China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners, and SF Racing. He was a $435,000 purchase from the Ocala Breeders' Sales 2016 March sale of 2-year-olds in training, where he was consigned by Hoppel's Horse and Cattle Co.
"I don't think stretching him out is out of the question, but those are Bob's decisions and China Horse Club's," said Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes. "I just take care of the horse and make sure he's healthy for each race."