After only a few moments of talking about champion sprinter Amazombie, Bill Spawr invited a visitor to his Barn G headquarters at Del Mar to take a closer look at the object of the discussion. Spawr pointed to the large muscles in the hindquarters of the California-bred gelding, the shine of his brown coat and remarked that at age six, the son of Northern Afleet appeared to him to be fully ready for his start in Sunday's Grade 1, $300,000 Bing Crosby Stakes.
"I'm bringing a stronger, fitter horse to the Crosby this year than I did last year," Spawr said.
Amazombie finished third in the 2011 running, 1 3/4 lengths behind Euroears.
Then Spawr took a hold of Amazombie's halter and held his head still so the engraving on the gold nameplate could be read: A-M-A-Z-O-M-B-E-I.
"That's not Amazombie, that's Am-a-zom-bee-eye," Spawr said, laughing.
Turns out the error was made when Spawr ordered a new halter for the horse last fall as the Breeders' Cup was approaching at Churchill Downs. The misspelling was discovered just days before Amazombie was to run in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Amazombie produced a neck victory over the fastest short-distance runners in the land, the first in a Breeders' Cup race for Spawr, and established the credential that resulted in being voted an Eclipse Award as the top sprinter of 2011. The lucky halter stays.
The misspelling prompted a question of how Amazombie got his name. Spawr doesn't have an answer.
"That was his name when we (Spawr and his longtime friend and partner Tom Sanford) bought him," Spawr said. "We could have changed it and I asked Tom about doing it but he said no, it's a cool name, and it is.
"He's got a big following and I'm sure part of it is his name. We've asked the people who had him before us, and nobody seems to know who named him or how he got his name. It's a mystery."
Spawr said there are Amazombie followers flying in from several Southwest states for Sunday's race. His conservative estimate is around 50.
Amazombie enters the Crosby, which often determines Del Mar's sprinter of the meet, with a win, a place and a show result in three 2012 starts, all in Grade 2 stakes. The $199,670 in current season earnings has boosted Amazombie's career total to $1,725,378.
A Crosby win, worth $180,000, would put Amazombie, whom Spawr co-owns, within $100,000 of the $2 million mark.
The 2012 campaign for Amazombie, to this point, has been an abbreviated version of 2011. A year ago, the Crosby was the seventh start of the year for Amazombie. This year it's the fourth. Amazombie ran three times in the spring at Hollywood Park in 2011, not at all this year, with Spawr opting to go back to Churchill Downs for a seven-furlong stakes by that name on Kentucky Derby Day. He was beaten a length by Shackleford in a big effort.
The ultimate goal remains the Breeders' Cup Sprint, which this year is on Amazombie's home track, Santa Anita. Winning it last year triggered an experience -- press attention and awards dinners -- that Spawr termed "overwhelming."
"I wasn't prepared for any of it," Spawr said. "You really can't appreciate it until you experience it. It's a big deal."
The Breeders' Cup trophy?
"In my living room," Spawr said.