With odds-on favorite The Factor cashing it in early, Amazombie closed from last on the far outside to take over past mid-stretch, winning the $250,000 Ancient Title Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Oct. 8 (VIDEO).
Amazombie, winning his first grade I race, earned a berth in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs with the victory.
Grade I winner The Factor, the 2-5 favorite from the Bob Baffert stable, was cooked on a blazing pace battle with 45-1 shot Sirocco Strike and weakened to fourth in the final furlong.
Amazombie, ridden by Mike Smith, defeated Irrefutable by three-quarters of a length while clocking six furlongs in 1:08.24. Mensa Heat finished a head farther back in third while crowded by the winner in the final sixteenth of a mile.
Bill Spawr trains the winning California-bred 5-year-old and owns the Northern Afleet gelding in partnership with Tom Sanford. Gregg Anderson bred Amazombie, who is out of the In Excess mare Wilshe Amaze.
“He (Smith) went wide, he circled ‘em wide," Spawr said. "He said he had so much horse he didn’t want to get stopped. That’s why he went wide. (Amazombie) didn’t surprise me; he loves this dirt. He loves dirt.”
Asked about going on to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5, Spawr said: “We’ll see how he comes out. We hope to, if he comes out fine. If he doesn’t, he’ll run in the Cal Cup (Sprint on Oct. 29). We have a month."
Six contested the Ancient Title with second choice Amazombie chasing the pace from well off the rail. The Factor, leaving from the rail for Martin Garcia, dueled through hot splits of :21.27 and :43.80 but could not shake Sirocco Strike on the turn. Though he managed to hang until mid-stretch, The Factor was in deep trouble as Amazombie swept to the front while shifting in under right-handed urging from Smith.
Amazombie was challenged by Mensa Heat and Joe Talamo, who were stuck down on the inside of Amazombie and did not appear to have enough room to get through. Amazombie maintained his slight advantage all the way to the wire as Irrefutable, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, rallied three wide through the lane to nab Mensa Heat for second at the wire.
"He’s a big strong horse and Bill just keeps him happy, sound, and fit," Smith said of the training job by Spawr. "He just runs dynamite and never runs a bad one. Today was one of his very good ones, and being back on dirt helps a real lot. He deserves his chance now in the Breeders’ Cup. He’s got great tactical speed, a great turn of foot, and a race at Churchill Downs could really set up well for him. We’ll see what happens.”
The Factor was 4 1/2 lengths back in fourth, followed by Sirocco Strike and Square Eddie.
“That’s horse racing," Baffert said of the speed duel that did in The Factor. "He was in the one (post), so he had to go. I guess they wanted to press us early. You never know what jockeys are going to do; it’s always the longshot that gets you. They have nothing to lose, so they just go for it.
“As long as he comes out of it all right, this will set him up for the next one (the Breeders’ Cup Sprint). The next race will be the most important one. I didn’t want to change his style today.”
Amazombie has won four of eight starts this year and was disqualified from another victory, the Los Angeles Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park last spring, after bulling his way to the wire in deep stretch. In two starts after the Los Angeles, he finished third in both the Triple Bend (gr. I) and Bing Crosby (gr. I) handicaps before given a breather by Spawr.
“I was happy with the early splits, especially (Sirocco Strike) hooking The Factor. He’s a really good horse," Spawr said. "We’ll point to the Breeders’ Cup because it’s dirt and I think with a lot of speed, it will help his chances, so we’ll see. We just hope he comes out good.”
“He’s getting more and more mature," Sanford added. "The Factor is a great horse, but we were confident coming into this race. He always seems to run good as an underdog."
Sanford said Amazombie didn't care for the main track at Del Mar, which led them to give him some time off.
"Bill couldn’t train him that much down there," Sanford said. "Coming back here was like coming back home. We’ll see how he comes out of this and we’re gonna try to go to the Breeders’ Cup."
Amazombie earned $150,000 for the victory, boosting his career earnings to $715,708 while compiling a record of 9-4-5 in 22 starts. The big bay won the Potrero Grande Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita in April.
Carrying 119 pounds, two fewer than the top-weighted The Factor, Amazombie paid $8.60, $3.60, and $6. Irrefutable, also from the Baffert barn, returned $5.40 and $12.60 and completed a $35.60 exacta. Mensa Heat paid $12.40 to show.