Favored Papa Clem seized the lead from pacesetter Smart Bid in the stretch and held off his rival through the lane to score a hard-fought half-length win in the $150,000 San Fernando Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Jan. 16 (VIDEO) .
Fourth-place finisher in last year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), the millionaire Papa Clem gained his first victory since capturing the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) last spring for owner/breeder Bo Hirsch and trainer Gary Stute. The son of Smart Strike had dropped six races in a row.
“I was a little nervous (watching the stretch run), just because he doesn’t remind me of a horse that’s going to open up on them," Stute said. "I was afraid somebody that he wouldn’t see might come get him late. But he showed a lot of heart, so I was really happy."
With Tyler Baze in the irons, Papa Clem and Smart Bid turned the San Fernando into a two-horse race in the homestretch, battling all the way to the wire. Papa Clem inched away in the final strides to win the 1 1/16-mile test of 4-year-olds in a so-so 1:42.64 over the Pro-ride main track. The San Fernando is the second leg of Santa Anita's Strub series.
Smart Bid, who led comfortably for Mike Smith while carving easy quarter-mile fractions of :24.18 :48.74 and 1:13.12, came under pressure from Papa Clem on the final turn. Papa Clem, who tracked in second all the way around, took the lead at the head of the stretch but couldn't separate from Smart Bid, who clung stubbornly close along the inside all the way to the last jumps before the wire. Papa Clem, who drifted in a bit in the drive, won under strong handling from Baze.
“I rode my horse with a lot of confidence," Baze said. "I didn’t want to get in a speed duel with Mike around the first turn because we would have just killed each other off.
"I lost this horse last year when I broke my shoulder and it’s a blessing to get back on him. He’s so game and you can so anything with him. Now, it’s on to the Strub.”
The others in the field of eight failed to menace the leaders in the stretch. The stalking Rendezvous closed up well enough to land third with Rafael Bejarano aboard, 1 1/4 lengths behind the runner-up. Viscountrallied for fourth.
Papa Clem ran third in the opening-day Malibu Stakes (gr. I), the first leg of the Strub series that served as a solid prep for his San Fernando effort following a 3 1/2-month layoff. The final race of the series, the Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds at nine furlongs, is Feb. 6.
Stute said Papa Clem would probably run in the Strub next, "We’ll see about Dubai or the Big ’Cap after that.”
Out of Miss Houdini, by Belong to Me , the Kentucky-bred Papa Clem improved his career mark to 3-2-2 in 13 starts while banking $1,121,190. The San Fernando victory was worth $90,000.
Papa Clem carried co-top weight of 120 pounds and paid $5, $3 and $2.60. Stakes winner Smart Bid, who ran seventh in the Malibu for trainer Graham Motion, returned $5.80 and $4.60 in an improved effort. He completed a $25.80 exacta. Rendezvous, winner of the Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) on turf in September, was $4 to show.
It was 1 1/4 lengths to Viscount in fourth. Then came Mythical Power , Mr. Hot Stuff, Gallant Son and Quindici Man.