Last seen running fifth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I), Tapizar starts off his 4-year-old campaign against Prayer for Relief in the $150,000 San Fernando Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 14 at Santa Anita.
A romping winner of Santa Anita's Sham Stakes (gr. III) last year, Tapizar is trained by Steve Asmussen. The son of Tapit will face Prayer for Relief, a multiple graded winner last year for trainer Bob Baffert in the 1 1/16-mile San Fernando. Eight are entered.
The San Fernando, set for a 4:07 p.m. PST probable post, is the second leg of Santa Anita's Strub series for 4-year-olds of 2012. Interestingly, none of 14 horses that were nominated for the San Fernando competed in the Malibu Stakes (gr. I), the first race in the series that was contested Dec. 26. The seven-furlong Malibu was won in impressive style by the Baffert-trained The Factor . The final leg of the series is the $150,000 Strub Stakes (gr. II) set for Feb. 4.
Big things were expected last year after Tapizar destroyed a maiden field by 10 1/2 lengths at Churchill Downs in November 2010. And the Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred appeared to be right on course when he blew away the Sham by more than four lengths one year ago. But after a fifth-place finish in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) as a 3-10 pick Feb. 12 a knee chip was discovered, knocking the bay colt off the Triple Crown trail.
Tapizar was sidelined until the fall following surgery to remove the chip. He returned with a front-running tally in an allowance race last October at Belmont Park and Asmussen decided to take a shot in the BC Dirt Mile at Churchill Nov. 5. However, the head-strong colt fought restraint from jockey Garrett Gomez during the race. He ended up fading out of the money at 17-1 odds, finishing 8 3/4 lengths behind the victorious Caleb's Posse .
Corey Nakatani takes over the mount on Tapizar, replacing the injured Gomez.
“He’s very fast,” Nakatani said. “They’re going to have to pick their feet up to beat him. I worked him twice going six furlongs and he went well.”
Tapizar, who starts from the far outside post for the San Fernando, has won three of eight lifetime starts with earnings of $173,032.
Zayat Stables' Prayer for Relief drew the rail and will be handled once again by Rafael Bejarano while carrying top weight of 123 pounds. The Jump Start colt ended the year on a sour note when he finished ninth in the Clark Handicap (gr. I) Nov. 25 at Churchill in his first start against older horses. It was just his second defeat from six races in 2011.
Earlier in the year, Prayer for Relief rattled off consecutive graded stakes wins in the Iowa Derby (gr. III), West Virginia Derby (gr. II), and the Super Derby (gr. II). He has earned more than $1 million in a 10-race career that includes five victories.
Those two are clear standouts in the San Fernando.
First Strike, an improving son of Vindication trained by Robert Diodoro for Charles Garvey and TG Racing, won the Zia Park Derby by nearly two lengths in his stakes debut Dec. 3. The gelding was claimed for $40,000 at Santa Anita a month earlier from Mercedes Stables, which bred the dark bay. First Strike has a lifetime record of 4-2-2 in nine starts and will be ridden by Victor Espinoza.
Irish Art, a restricted stakes winner on Santa Anita's hillside turf course last October, makes his debut on dirt for trainer Carla Gaines and owner Warren B. Williamson. The Artie Schiller offspring was runner-up to Mr. Commons in the Sir Beaufort Stakes (gr. IIT) on grass Dec. 26.
The others--Balladry, Dreaminofthewin, supplemental entrant Riveting Reason, and Spud Spivens--are all in search of their first stakes win.
$150,000 San Fernando Stakes (gr. II, Race 8, 4:07 p.m.), 4YOs, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Prayer for Relief (KY), R Bejarano, 123, B Baffert
2. Balladry (KY), J Talamo, 118, E G Harty
3. Riveting Reason (KY), A Quinonez, 118, M K Cho
4. Dreaminofthewin (KY), M Garcia, 118, B L Jackson
5. Irish Art (KY), J Rosario, 118, C Gaines
6. Spud Spivens (CA), M E Smith, 118, H Moreno
7. First Strike (KY), V Espinoza, 118, R Diodoro
8. Tapizar (KY), C S Nakatani, 118, S M Asmussen