Aggie Engineer, whose soft early pace set him up perfectly for the first graded win of his career last month, could get a similar scenario Jan. 8 when the Paddy Gallagher trainee faces five rivals in the $150,000 San Pasqual Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita.
Joe Talamo, who nursed Ward and Roberta Williford's 5-year-old homebred to a stubborn 1 3/4-length win in the seven-horse Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) over the Hollywood Park Cushion Track Dec. 4, likes his chances to do the same over Santa Anita's dirt track at 1 1/16 miles. The E Dubai gelding owns a two-race winning streak heading into the San Pasqual.
“But he’s such a versatile horse, he really doesn’t need the lead," Talamo said. "Obviously, he runs his best races on the front. He had such a great trip last time; he walked the dog.”
Aggie Engineer traveled the first half-mile in the Native Diver in :50.52 and six furlongs in 1:15.49 while taking command. He opened up a three-length lead mid-stretch and held on gamely.
“What I really like about (Aggie Engineer) is, he’s training real good,” Talamo said. “Whether they go slow or not, he really has a good turn of foot. The way the track’s playing, it should be right in his favor.”
Spurrier, who rallied for second in the 'Diver, and fourth-place Dakota Phone, another deep closer, are also back for the San Pasqual.
Aggie Engineer, who drew the rail in the compact field, brings a 6-4-2 mark in 16 starts with earnings of $268,280. He was assigned 118 pounds, five fewer than top-weighted Dakota Phone, winner of the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) at 37-1 odds two months ago.
The San Pasqual is the seventh race on the Santa Anita card with a 3:36 p.m. PST start.
Dakota Phone, who retains Joel Rosario for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, looks to rebound from his fourth as the 8-5 favorite in the Native Diver, though it appears he will be up against the pace set-up once again. Dakota Phone ran closer to the lead than usual last time but was unable to mount the big late kick he generated when chasing a brisk pace in the Nov. 6 Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs. The 5-year-old Zavata gelding got up by a head in the Dirt Mile after rallying five wide from last in the field of 12.
A six-time winner in 33 starts, Dakota Phone leads the San Pasqual field in earnings with $1,279,810.
Arnold Zetcher's Spurrier was also compromised in the Native Diver but supplied a game effort in rallying wide to get the runner-up spot for trainer Bob Baffert. Rafael Bejarano takes the mount on the 5-year-old son of Dixieland Band.
Baffert also entered Zetcher's Red Door Drive, who could be a pace factor while seeking his first stakes victory. The 5-year-old son of Sky Mesa ran fourth in a grass stakes at Hollywood Nov. 5.
Ryehill Dreamer, an Irish-bred trained by Julio Canani for owner Marsha Naify, tries dirt for the first time after fading to ninth in Hollywood's Citation Handicap (gr. IIT) Nov. 27. The 4-year-old Catcher In The Rye gelding was group II-placed in Great Britain in 2008 but has started just three times since transferring to the United States for the 2009 campaign. Garrett Gomez rides.
Rounding out the field is the late-running Quindici Man, coming off a third-place finish as the favorite in the Zia Park Distance Championship Dec. 5 for trainer Craig Lewis.
$150,000 San Pasqual Stakes (gr. II, Race 7, 3:36 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Aggie Engineer (KY), J Talamo, 118, P Gallagher
2. Quindici Man (KY), P A Valenzuela, 118, C A Lewis
3. Ryehill Dreamer (IRE), G K Gomez, 118, J C Canani
4. Dakota Phone (KY), J Rosario, 123, J Hollendorfer
5. Spurrier (KY), R Bejarano, 118, B Baffert
6. Red Door Drive (KY), M A Pedroza, 118, B Baffert