Coming off his most prestigious victory to date—in the Dec. 26 Mathis Brothers Mile Stakes (gr. IIT)—the 4-year-old City Zip gelding bulled his way to the rail coming down off the turn, bumping G. G. Ryder. The 5-2 favorite then found clear sailing in the 10-horse field en route to a neck decision over 9-2 Boozer, who held off the furious late outside run of Patriots Rule to hold second by a head.
Stewards reviewed the turn for home, when Alert Bay and jockey Tyler Baze came over on G. G. Ryder and Rafael Bejarano, but in the end decided the incident did not alter the original order of finish.
"I had a great position," Bejarano said. "I was in my lane and the winner didn't have room to come in, but he came in on me and crossed us. There wasn't enough room, so it completely shut me off and I had to stop my horse."
"Going into the far turn I had some trouble," Baze explained. "Bejarano didn't go into the turn real smooth and came out and bumped me and I was also getting pressure from the horses to our outside. Corey Nakatani (on Tamarando ) was pressuring me because he was being pressured and that put me in a bad spot. I got bumped around a little bit but this horse is super. He's an unbelievable horse to ride and he's a got a will to win."
G. G. Ryder and Super Ability were those vying for the early lead with Boozer in the mix, while Alert Bay stalked inside from fourth until coming out slightly on the turn for home. After early fractions went in :24.27 and :47.50, Alert Bay was still fourth in a group of 10 through three-quarters in 1:11.18.
Straightening away, the bay gelding ran into traffic problems to his inside and then shifted back over to the rail once clear, rallying under left-handed urging to gamely prevail. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile test on firm turf was 1:47.62.
"We scooted out of a tough one there today," trainer Blaine Wright said. "We could have come down. Tyler thought he had room. He said he knew it was tight, but he thought the other rider (Bejarano) was out of horse, and he thought we would stay up. Myself, I sweat these things out a little bit.
"We're riding a five-race win streak. He's taken me places," Wright added. "I thought my barn was kind of coming up, and Mr. Redekop has put some good horses in my hands, and this horse has taken me to a level where you certainly want to be. His last two efforts have certainly put him on the map. He overcame some adversity today and I'm very proud to be a part of it."
Carrying co-high weight of 123 pounds, Alert Bay paid $7.80, $4, and $3. Boozer brought $6.20 and $4.80 with Patriots Rule paid $5.80. Big Bane Theory, Super Ability, Awesome Return, Bench Light, G. G. Ryder, Tamarando, and Stoney Fleece completed the order of finish. Alpine Luck and Christopher Street scratched.
Alert Bay was bred in California by Thomas Newton Bell and Ross John McLeod out of Chilean champion miler Hickory, by Dushyantor. A consistent performer who has won on turf, dirt, and all-weather surfaces, Alert Bay improved his record to 8-4-1 from 14 starts for earnings of $757,707.
One race prior to the Cal Cup Turf Classic, front-running Spirit Rules won the $150,000 Donald Valpredo California Cup Sprint under jockey Iggy Puglisi for owners Barbara Accardy, Jeanmarc Murphy, and Craig Siedler (VIDEO).
The 6-year-old gelding by Tribal Rule dashed from his outside post, engaged heavily favored San Onofre around the far turn, and repelled his rival's determined challenge through the stretch to win by a half length. He covered six furlongs in 1:10.31.
"The break helped us out a ton," said Puglisi. "He was in there a really short period of time and he really caught a flyer from there. I couldn't give that up. There were too many fast horses in there, so when I could scoot my way over to San Onofre, I figured I'd at least have a shot at it. My horse ran really good. He's been lights out, a really hard-knocking horse."
Trained by Paul Aguirre, Spirit Rules prevailed in a race that was reduced from a field of nine to five older horses after four program scratches, including morning line choice Big Macher. He was the longest shot in the group at 12-1 and paid $26.20, $6.20, and $3.20. In garnering his fifth win from 16 starts, Spirit Rules picked up $90,000 for the win, which increased his earnings to $318,378. He was bred in California by John and Allegra Ernst.
"He's a big horse and whenever he draws outside and he gets near the lead, he's going to be tough," said Aguirre. "They may run him down, but it's not going to be because he quits. He'll give every ounce he has right to the wire."
Ridden by Mike Smith, 7-10 pick San Onofre, who had been idle since winning a 6 1/2-furlong allowance last Feb. 20, broke from the rail and was in search of his fifth consecutive win in his sixth career start.
"Just got outrun today," said Smith. "I stumbled a little leaving the gate, which cost me a clear lead, but if I'd have been running, I don't think it would have bothered him. The horse hasn't run in a year. The horse that beat me is a good old horse that's been running all year and is fit. I was really happy with the way he ran and I think he'll really move forward off it."
San Onofre and Spirit Rules went head and head through fractions of :21.49, :44.14 and :56.84. The runner-up finished 1 1/4 lengths clear of Follini and paid $2.80 and $2.10.
Off at 10-1 with Edwin Maldonado up, Follini finished third, 1 3/4 lengths in front of Rousing Sermon, and paid $3.20 to show.
Earlier on the card, Redekop's Go West Marie easily overhauled longshot Home Journey to take the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf Sprint by three quarters of a length under Gary Stevens. Trained by Eddie Truman, the 4-year-old filly by Western Fame covered 6 1/2 furlongs down Santa Anita's hillside turf course in 1:12.18.
Off at 5-1 in a field of 12 California-bred or California-sired fillies and mares, Go West Marie shortened up off of an impressive one mile turf allowance score Dec. 28. She paid $13.00, $7.20 and $5.00.
"A great trip," said Stevens. "Eddie's done a great job with this filly and I got on her at the right time. I learned a lot about her. I asked him if I could just sit on her and be quiet with her. It worked out well. She exploded with me the last eighth, and I rode her the same way today even though we were shortening up and there was so much speed."
Go West Marie ran her overall record to 5-1-5 from 17 starts. Out of the Swiss Yodeler mare Marie's Rose, she picked up $90,000 for the win, which improved her earnings to $402,520. She was bred by Summer Mayberry.
"This race wasn't really our choice," said Truman. "We think she's better going long but we wanted a Cal-bred race. Her last race was in open company and this was really our only option for Cal-breds. Gary said he would ride her the same way, just sit on her dead last.
"She has run down the hill and been on the lead, so really, she'll do anything. She is just so sweet. She's maturing and getting so much smarter and kinder."
In a massive effort, Home Journey, who was ridden by Tyler Baze, set sizzling fractions of :21.20, :42.80 and 1:05.88, leading by 3 1/2 lengths in the stretch before holding on for second by a half length over a fast-finishing More Complexity. Off at 16-1, Home Journey paid $16.60 and $9.80.
Ridden by Mario Gutierrez, More Complexity, along with Marks Mine, were both returned to the saddling paddock during the post parade, resulting in a lengthy delay to the start of the race. Off at 14-1, More Complexity was keen early while mid-pack past the half mile, had dead aim on the leader turning for home but was third-best. She paid $8.60 to show.
The favorite at 2-1 with Victor Espinoza up, Heat Trap never threatened and finished sixth.