In a battle of red-hot sprinters, jockey Russell Baze (6-5), as expected, took the race to the 3-5 choice Tribesman and Chad Schvaneveldt, who were looking for their sixth front-running straight win together.
After opening up by six lengths over the the outsiders Bonfante and Jack Hes Tops down the backstretch, Tribesman and Vicarino battled head-and-head through hot fractions. In upper stretch, Vicarino, on the outside, began to edge away from his rival. But both were tiring and Bonfante, ridden expertly by Frank Alvarado, loomed up three wide leaving the turn to reach contention. By the time they reached mid-stretch, Vicarino had nothing left with which to hold off the 7-year-old Bonfante.
The final time for the six-furlong test was 1:09.39 on a fast dirt track. The fractions were :21.72 for the opening quarter mile and :44.09 for the half.
"It set up perfectly for us," said Alvarado. "He broke sharp and settled. I loved seeing those guys banging up front. At the three-eighths pole he started to pick it up and I knew the race was over. He finished beautifully."
Jack Hes Tops, sent off at 25-1 in a field reduced to four by the scratch of Double Action, ran on for second under Roberto Gonzalez by one length over Vicarino, who set a Bay Meadows track record for five furlongs in his last start. The $2 exacta was $133.20.
Tribesman, coming off a 1 3/4-length win over grade I winner Idiot Proof in the Phoenix Gold Cup at Turf Paradise, finished eight lengths behind the winner in last.
Schvaneveldt said he expected Vicarino and Baze to cause him problems.
"I knew that was going to happen," he said. "I told my wife (Jane) last night that Vicarino was going to go after us and we'd kill each other off and (Bonfante) would win it. I knew right when we left the gate, the way (Baze) was riding, that we'd be in a duel.
"My horse wasn't that comfortable today," continued Schvaneveldt. "The track is kind of loose. I don't know if it was the track or the fact that he had a horse breathing on him, but he wasn't comfortable. He switched leads at the half-mile pole and he's never done that before. He's also bled in the past and that could have happened."
Baze said Vicarino had no excuse.
"So much for the big match race," said Baze. "Our plan was to keep the pressure on Tribesman and hope that he'd fold, but the plan didn't include the other two horses running by us. My horse is fast, too, and he was laying next to that horse pretty comfortably. I was surprised my horse didn't finish better."
Vicarino carried 121 pounds and Tribesman 123, giving a significant advantage to Bonfante (117), whose career totals dwarfed his rivals.
Shipped from Southern California by McAnally, Bonfante was the only graded stakes winner in the field. The California-bred Fruition gelding captured the off-the-turf San Simeon (gr. III) at Santa Anita at 6 1/2 furlongs last April. Owned and bred by Eugene Tenbrink and Lewis Figone of Frankfurt Stables, the hard-trying bay improved his record to 11-6-3 in 30 starts with earnings of $636,121. Four of Bonfante's victories have come on the turf.
"I had a feeling he was going to win," said Figone. "People just don't believe in that horse. He's been a great horse for me.
He said Bonfante would be pointed to Bay Meadows' $100,000 California Turf Sprint on April 5.
Bonfante paid $15 and $5.40. Jack Hes Tops returned $16.80. There was no show wagering.
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