A popular claiming horse on the Northern California circuit last year, Zappa completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in a Cushion Track record time of 1:39.58 while defeating the slight 5-2 choice Well Armed by one length. Heatseeker finished third.
Santa Anita is playing extremely fast. Two races earlier, 3-year-old El Gato Malo set a track mark for one mile in the San Rafael Stakes (gr. III).
The San Pasqual, originally slated for Jan. 5 but rescheduled due to track drainage problems, is a major prep race for the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) on March 1.
Zappa, a 6-year-old Afternoon Deelites gelding, won for the third time in four starts on synthetic tracks. Claimed four times in 2007 -- once for as little as $20,000 at Bay Meadows in February -- he has four victories in his last five tries for trainer John Sadler, who took over the conditioning of Zappa for owners Gary and Cecil Barber from Jerry Hollendorfer in June.
Sadler said Zappa would be pointed to the Big 'Cap. "We're thinking about it, you bet.
"He really loves the synthetic tracks," the trainer said. "He’s much better on them than on turf or dirt.”
Ridden by Joel Rosario, the 13-1 shot tracked the leader Well Armed, who was loose on the front end while setting sensible fractions of :23 4/5, :47 2/5 and 1:10 4/5. Zappa, racing off the rail, made his bid at the top of the stretch to gain the lead in the late stages, proving best under Rosario's urging. Well Armed, making his U.S. stakes debut for trainer Eoin Harty, held on for second by three-quarters of a length over second choice Heatseeker.
Rosario, who turns 20 on Jan. 14, won his first stakes race at Santa Anita. "Hopefully, it will help my business," he said.
“He’s a rising superstar," Sadler commented. "He’s a great, young rider. He’s very poised.”
The multiple grade II winner Molengao, making his first start in more than six months, closed while five wide coming into the stretch but did not respond, finishing last in the seven-horse field.
Zappa won for the 11th time in 27 lifetime starts and increased his bankroll to $325,220 with the winning share of $90,000. He defeated a third-level allowance field at 1 1/16 miles on the Hollywood Park Cushion Track in his most recent start Dec. 14.
“He’s been very sharp," Sadler said. "He ran a terrific race at Hollywood when he beat Celtic Dreamin. He doesn’t have conditions, so he has to step up."
Carrying 114 pounds -- six less than the top-weighted Molengao -- Zappa paid $28.60, $11, and $4.60. Well Armed, who began his career in Great Britain for WinStar Farms and also raced in the United Arab Emirates, returned $4.80 and $3.40 while rounding out a $2 exacta worth $115.80. The Irish-bred Heatseeker, winner of the Hollywood's Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) last month for Hollendorfer, was $3.80 to show.
Thousand Words, making his U.S. debut for trainer Bobby Frankel, finished fourth, followed by Racketeer, Arson Squad, and Molengao.