Ridden by David Flores, Monterey Jazz broke best from the far outside in the field of eight in the 1 1/8-mile test for 4-year-olds, got to the rail heading into the clubhouse turn, and controlled things from there. After getting clear by seven lengths on the far turn, Flores hand rode the dark bay colt through the stretch to win handily by 4 1/2 lengths over even-money choice Tiago. The final time was a sizzling 1:45.65, which missed the Cushion Track mark set by Go Between in the Sunshine Millions Classic Jan. 26 by .01.
"We both popped the gate pretty good," Flores said of the winner. "I didn't fight him, I just let him do his thing. When we got to the (clubhouse) turn, he felt those other horses coming to him and he took off, so I just let him. I think he can go a mile and a quarter, no problem. He’s just a machine right now.”
Craig Dollase trains Monterey Jazz, a Kentucky-bred colt by Thunderello--Reefside (by Dynaformer), for owners A & R Stables and Class Racing Stable. The front-running Monterey Jazz won the one-mile Sir Beaufort (gr. IIIT) on the Santa Anita grass in his stakes debut opening day Dec. 26. He was teamed with Flores for the first time that day and has blossomed since being switched to route distances, regardless of the surface.
The complexion of the Strub changed considerably when trainer Bob Baffert scratched San Fernando Stakes (gr. II) winner Air Commander, the only contender likely to challenge Monterey Jazz up front. Dollase said he knew his colt had a big advantage.
The $1 million Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) at 10 furlongs on March 1 was "a definite possibility" for Monterey Jazz's next start, Dollase said.
"He’s really improved immensely, and hopefully we’ve got some bigger and better races down the road," he said. "David didn’t fight him at all, and he trains this way, too. He’s really a freak of nature. We obviously found the right key with him now. He probably wanted to stretch out all along and I just didn’t know that, so we’ve got a brand new horse on our hands, and he’s the real deal.”
Monterey Jazz set sharp fractions of :22.76, :45.89 and 1:08.10 to put away the field heading into the far turn. He got a nice breather on the bend as the stalkers fell back, and he was never threatened as Tiago and Mike Smith put in their patented late run. Monzante, another half-length behind, closed well for Garrett Gomez to get third over Great Hunter, who turned in another disappointing performance. The former Triple Crown aspirant has not won since taking the Robert B. Lewis (gr. II) at Santa Anita 11 months ago.
The millionaire Tiago, winner of last year's Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) and Goodwood (gr. I) for trainer John Shirreffs, carried top weight of 123 pounds, two more than Monterey Jazz.
“My horse ran good," Shirreffs said, then referring to the winner, added: "Somebody let the tiger out on that one, huh? Put that horse back in a cage! We’ll come back in the Big ‘Cap if all goes well. Mike (Smith) said he slipped breaking out of the gate a little bit and lost some ground.”
Monterey Jazz earned his fifth victory in 11 starts while more than doubling his earnings to $347,740 with the winner's share of $180,000. Danzel Brendemuehl bred Monterey Jazz, an $85,000 Ocala Breeders' Sale buy as a 2-year-old in April 2006. The winning owners are Tom Arndt of Scottsdale, AZ, who races as A & R Stables, and Joe Masino of San Dimas, Calif., of Class Racing Stable.
Sent off as the third choice, Monterey Jazz paid $13.60, $4.40, and $3.60. Tiago, who ran third in the San Fernando in his 2008 bow Jan. 12, returned $2.80 and $2.40. Monzante, making his third U.S. start since transferring from England to trainer Mike Mitchell last fall, was $4.60 to show. The $2 exacta was worth $33.20.
Great Hunter edged Warning Zone for fourth by a neck. Then came Giant Gizmo, Slew's Tizzy, and Sahara Heat.