Spanish Chestnut took a big step forward Saturday at Santa Anita Park by winning the $150,000 San Rafael Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds - his graded stakes debut - in determined style.
After breaking a step slowly for Gary Stevens, the stocky son of Horse Chestnut
edged ahead of favored Kirkendahl on the clubhouse turn and led the field all the way around, completing the mile on a fast track in 1:36 3/5 for his second straight route victory.
Iced Out, the longest shot in the field of five at odds of 9-1, closed resolutely for Tyler Baze to finish second, three quarters of a length behind the winner. Texcess, last month's $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot winner, settled for third after a wide trip for Victor Espinoza.
"He missed the break a little bit, then he wanted to run off," Stevens said of Spanish Chestnut. "He's just a grinder. He really wants to beat you. He showed he belongs with the best around here."
Chips Are Down, who defeated Spanish Chestnut in an allowance race at Hollywood Park Dec. 3, was a distant fourth, followed by Kirkendahl, the 9-5 choice who faded in the stretch and finished 10 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
Patrick Biancone trains Spanish Chestnut for owners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, the same connections that campaigned Lion Heart during last year's Triple Crown series.
"I said before he's got the same style as Lion Heart ,and maybe I train him better than Lion Heart because I learned more with Lion Heart," Biancone said. "He's just like Lion Heart. If you go with him, you're dead, and if you don't go he's difficult to catch. He's just a terrific horse. He wants to please you. I would say he'll stay in California (en route to the Kentucky Derby, gr. I). I'll talk to my owners and see what we're going to do but initially the plan was to stay here."
Spanish Chestnut was a three-length winner in a first-level allowance race at 1 1/16 miles in his last start Dec. 27 at Santa Anita. He ran second in the Lone Star Juvenile in October, his only previous stakes try.
Bred in Florida by Don Graham and Ocala Oaks, Spanish Chestnut, a $500,000 Ocala February 2-year-olds in training sale purchase, has three wins and two seconds in five starts with earnings of $174,420.
Spanish Chestnut was eager from the outset, pressuring Kirkendahl from between horses early before assuming a one-length lead on the backstretch, maintaining the advantage through fractions of :23, :46 and 1:10.
Texcess was the first to make a move, edging up on the outside to menace the leader. Iced Out, reserved well off the pace into the far turn, rallied on the outside, gradually moving ahead of Texcess in deep stretch but running out of room while getting to the winner in the final strides. Spanish Chestnut drifted in late but held on gamely under Stevens' urging.
Baze, aboard Iced Out, noted the track was playing to speed.
"He's the only one who's made up ground today, and that boosted him in my book," Baze said. "He's a nice horse and we could have the Derby to look forward to. You never know."
Spanish Chestnut paid a healthy $9, $5.60 and $3.40 as the fourth choice in the wagering. Iced Out returned $7.60 and $3.40, completing a $67 exacta. Texcess was $2.60 to show.
Dover Dere scratched.