J. Paul Reddam's Notional, sent off at odds of 3-5, proved a punctual four-length winner of Saturday's $150,000 San Rafael (gr. II) for 3-year-olds at one mile at Santa Anita Park.
Ridden by Corey Nakatani for trainer Doug O'Neill, Notional moved up on the pacesetter Tenfold on the far turn, seized the lead at the head of the stretch, and took command approaching the eighth pole. Nakatani gave the California-bred son of In Excess several cracks of the whip right-handed through the stretch, coming home in a solid 1:36 2/5. Notional, who claimed his initial stakes victory, wore blinkers for the first time Saturday.
Tenfold, who carved fractions of :23, :46 1/5 and 1:11 1/5, held second by a head under jockey Victor Espinoza over the closing Grapelli and Garrett Gomez, who finished a nose better than Silent Soul.
Notional gained attention when he debuted at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting with a 2 1/2-length victory Oct. 21 in a six-furlong time of 1:09. The bay colt switched to Hollywood Park's Cushion Track after that, finishing third as the 13-10 choice in the seven-furlong Hollywood Prevue (gr. III) Nov. 18. He then ran sixth -- though beaten by just 2 1/2 lengths by Stormello -- in the 1 1/16-mile Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) Dec. 16.
With the cutback to a mile Saturday, Notional produced his second win in four starts and increased his earnings to $133,200.
"His maiden win was so impressive that he kind of regressed a bit, but hopefully, this is one we can improve on," said O'Neill, who also trains quality 3-year-olds Great Hunter and Liquidity.
"We’re hoping to run Liquidity in the Sham (Feb. 3) and Great Hunter is supposed to run in the Bob Lewis (formerly the Santa Catalina on March 3), but if all three are doing great and the right race fits two horses, two might run together. The goal, obviously, is the first Saturday in May with all three, if we were to get that lucky. We’ll do whatever we have to to get each one there.”
Vessels Stallion Farm bred Notional, who is out of the French Deputy mare Truly Blessed and was sold for $235,000 at Barretts as a 2-year-old in March.
Notional always looked like a winner, running in third on the outside of 30-1 shot Half Famous through the clubhouse turn as Tenfold got away to a four-length lead on the backstretch. Notional cut into the lead at will approaching the far turn and cruised up on the outside of Tenfold to challenge as they rounded the bend.
"Today, we wanted to let him run out of there and get a position, and he was real handy with the blinkers," Nakatani said. "Going to the far turn he was well within himself, and I wanted him in striking range. I wanted to make sure he ran around the turn today because that’s the kind of move you have to make the first Saturday in May. We’ve been very high on him ever since Doug got him, and this is a good steppingstone on the Derby trail.”
He paid $3.40, $2.40, and $2.10. The maiden winner Tenfold, trained by Bob Baffert for the Robert and Beverly Lewis Trust, returned $3.40 and $2.60. Grapelli, another in the field with only a maiden win to his credit, was $3.20 to show.
Silent Soul was followed by Tap It Light, Soldier, and Half Famous.