Sahara Sky, benefitting once again by a super-hot pace, flew home on the outside to capture the $200,750 San Carlos Stakes Feb. 23 for his second grade II stakes win in a row at Santa Anita Park. (VIDEO)
The surprising 5-year-old son of Pleasant Tap responded to strong left-handed urging from Joe Talamo in the lane to win the San Carlos at 6-1 odds by three-quarters of a length. He ran seven furlongs in a sharp 1:21.28 over a fast track.
Capital Account came on late to pip Comma to the Top, the unlucky pacesetter, by a head for second. The Lumber Guy, the 19-10 favorite in the field of eight, managed to beat just one home after stalking the pace for a half mile.
Sahara Sky was coming off a one-length tally in the six-furlong Palos Verdes (gr. II) Jan. 19, his first stakes victory, which unfurled in a similar fashion to the San Carlos thanks to a sizzling early pace.
The winner is trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, who owns Sahara Sky in partnership with Kim Lloyd's Sweetwater Stable. Bred in Florida by Martin Stables, the dark bay or brown horse is out of the Storm Cat mare Seeking the Sky.
"He got a good trip and it was just about a perfect ride, you might say," Hollendorfer said. "I hope (Sahara Sky) can maintain it (his winning pattern). He sure is a nice horse."
Sahara Sky raced in sixth out of the chute as Justin Phillip tackled Comma to the Top, who broke from the rail, for the early lead. Those two sped down the backstretch well in front of the rest of the field in quarter mile splits of :22.11 and :43.88 before Comma to the Top inched away on the turn and opened a one-length lead in the stretch.
Racing off the rail, Sahara Sky vied four wide on the turn and came out farther in the homestretch to run past his rivals, making up three lengths from mid-stretch to get the lead and win drawing away for Talamo.
"They had a real hot pace; it really set up good for us today," Talamo said. "I'll tell you what—this horse is one of those that only gets better with age. Jerry has done a great job with him. He runs well fresh. It was going so fast up there and they stopped pretty good for us, but my horse was really running the last part."
Capital Account, last out of the gate for David Flores, found his best stride after also angling wide for the drive and nabbed Comma to the Top for second just before the wire. Comma to the Top, ridden by Edwin Maldonado, was 2 1/4 lengths clear of Drill, who was followed by Justin Phillip, Midnight Transfer, The Lumber Guy, and Canonize.
Sahara Sky, who improved his career mark to 6-2-4 in 14 races with earnings of $356,680.
Carrying co-high weight of 123 pounds, he paid $14.60, $6.20, and $4. Capital Account, also toting 123, returned $5.80 and $4.40 and was part of a $71 exacta. The show price on Comma to the Top was $5.
Hollendorfer said he would "talk a little bit about" a possible start in the Metropolitan Mile (gr. I) at Belmont Park on Memorial Day, May 27, but would also consider the Potrero Grande Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita April 6.
"This horse is a different horse this year," co-owner Lloyd said. "He's run well all the time, but he would put so much into his races when he was fresh that he didn't seem to have that same finish in his subsequent races. He's matured now, though, and he's firing back to back. He might be a pretty good horse."
Garrett Gomez, who rode grade I winner The Lumber Guy, could find no excuse. Last fall's Xpressbet Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) runner-up turned in his second poor effort of the meet for trainer Neil Drysdale following a seventh in the Malibu Stakes (gr. I) Dec. 26.
"I had a perfect trip. He traveled beautifully, but when the running started, the horse never came up underneath me," he said. "We'll have to go back to the drawing board."
Drysdale said The Lumber Guy could still be bothered by a quarter crack he sustained in the running of the Malibu.