Versatile Comma to the Top, who has produced wins on dirt, synthetic, and turf, as well as going long and sprinting, brings his best form recently into the $150,000 Palos Verdes Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 19.
Comma to the Top surpassed $1 million in career earnings in his most recent start, the off-the-turf Daytona Stakes (gr. II) Dec. 29 at Santa Anita Park. The Florida-bred 5-year-old Bwana Charlie gelding led from the start to win by nearly two lengths in a fast time of 1:14.55 for 6 1/2 furlongs on a wet fast main track. He has won three of his past five outings as he prepares for his next start at Santa Anita.
"He does it all," said trainer Peter Miller, who opted for the Palos Verdes over the Florida Sunshine Millions Sprint at Gulfsteam Park on the same day.
"We were considering the Sunshine Millions," Miller said, "but we decided to stay home. We just thought it was a better slot for him here. We don't have to ship and he likes this track."
The CashCall Futurity (gr. I) winner in 2010 is owned by Gary Barber, Roger Birnbuam, and Kevin Tsujihara. Comma to the Top has now won 11 of 25 lifetime starts while banking $1,027,696.
Comma to the Top comes off a half-mile work in :48 2/5 over the Cushion Track at Betfair Hollywood Park Jan. 13.
"The horse is doing super," Miller said. "We'll step him up in class and see what he can do."
Edwin Maldonado, who rode the bay in the Daytona for the first time, has the call once more. They break from post 5.
The Palos Verdes, which drew seven older sprinters, is race 5 on Santa Anita's Saturday card with a 2:34 p.m. PST expected post.
Rivals in the six-furlong event include a pair from the Bob Baffert barn, Apriority and Drill, the former Panamania flash Private Zone, and grade II winner Justin Phillip.
Drill was supplemented to the Palos Verdes for $3,000 by his owners. He comes off a respectable fourth in the opening day Malibu Stakes (gr. I) going seven furlongs. In the Malibu, Drill was away slowly at 10-1 and finished full of run, 3 3/4 lengths behind winner Jimmy Creed.
It was the first start for Drill since winning the seven-furlong Lazarro Barrera Stakes (gr. III) May 12, and he could well improve with a recent race under his belt. The 4-year-old colt by Lawyer Ron has pair of sprint victories to his credit at seven furlongs, the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) and the San Vicente at Santa Anita (gr. II) last February.
Owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and John Weitman, Drill will again be ridden by Martin Garcia who has guided him to all three of his stakes victories. The Kentucky-bred has won four of 12 lifetime starts with earnings of $437,710.
Dinald Dizney's homebred Apriority has not raced since July 7 and is looking for his first win since taking the Mr. Prospector (gr. III) a little more than two years ago at Gulfstream Park. Julien Leparoux has the riding assignment in the comeback race for the 6-year-old son of Grand Slam. They drew the rail. Apriority previously raced for trainer David Fawkes.
Trainer Doug O'Neill will be represented by the hard-hitting Private Zone, who earned a best last-out Beyer Speed Figure of 103 when second, beaten three-quarters of a length, in the Malibu.
Private Zone, who made the early Malibu running, carving out splits of 22.60, 44.60, and 1:08.20, fought back gamely but couldn't stave off Jimmy Creed inside the sixteenth pole. He has the advantage of drawing outside of both Drill and Comma to the Top. Jockey Martin Pedroza, who has guided him to three consecutive second-place-finishes in stakes events, would appear to have the controlling speed.
A 4-year-old Canadian-bred by Macho Uno , Private Zone began his career in Panama and will seek his first stateside win for owners Good Friends Stable.
Trainer Steve Asmussen will try to spring a surprise with 5-year-old Justin Phillip, who comes off a good effort in the Xpressbet Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) Nov. 3, finishing fifth at odds of 30-1.
Winner of the Woody Stephens Stakes (gr. II) at 3, Zayat Stables' Justin Phillip has a 2-2-1 mark in nine starts at six furlongs and will break from the far outside. The son of First Samurai has earnings of $577,162 and will be ridden back by Rafael Bejarano.
Canonize and Sahara Sky complete the field.
$150,000 Palos Verdes Stakes (gr. II, Race 5, 2:34 p.m.), 4 & Up, 6 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Apriority (FL), J R Leparoux, 118, B Baffert
2. Drill (KY), M Garcia, 120, B Baffert
3. Canonize (KY), J Valdivia Jr., 118, R W Ellis
4. Sahara Sky (FL), J Talamo, 118, J Hollendorfer
5. Comma to the Top (FL), E A Maldonado, 118, P Miller
6. Private Zone (ON), M A Pedroza, 120, D F O'Neill
7. Justin Phillip (KY), R Bejarano, 118, S M Asmussen