Kobe's Back will face Puerto Rican powerhouse Tonito M. in the Lazaro Barrera Stakes.

Kobe's Back will face Puerto Rican powerhouse Tonito M. in the Lazaro Barrera Stakes.

Benoit Photo

Puerto Rican Speedster to Test Kobe's Back

Tonito M. makes his North American debut for Jerry Hollendorfer in Barrera Stakes.

Grade II winner Kobe's Back  meets Puerto Rican powerhouse Tonito M. in the $100,000 Lazaro Barrera Stakes (gr. III), to be run for the first time at Santa Anita Park May 10.

The seven-furlong main track test attracted seven 3-year-olds with Kobe's Back, trained by John Sadler for Susan and Lee Searing's C R K Stable, a standout. The gray/roan son of Flatter  romped in the San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) by 5 1/4 lengths at the same distance in his only prior race over the track Feb. 16.

Kobe's Back looks to rebound from a difficult trip to Aqueduct Racetrack April 5 in the Bay Shore Stakes (gr. III). He banged the starting gate that day and trailed the field as the 13-10 favorite before putting in an encouraging late effort to finish third, beaten by half a length. Corey Nakatani, who was aboard Kobe's Back for the first time in the Bay Shore, has the return mount for Sadler.

"He's had some issues in the gate, but we've been working with him really hard in that regard and he's been doing well," Sadler said. "It's a good spot for him on Saturday."

He has run six times in his career, all in stakes company, while winning twice with one second and a third, good for earnings of $234,250. As a 2-year-old Kobe's Back won his debut in the Willard L. Proctor Memorial Stakes impressively in June 2013 and finished second in his next start behind champion Shared Belief in the Hollywood Prevue (gr. III).

Kobe's Back, who was briefly on the Triple Crown trail before a seventh-place finish in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) March 15 at Oaklawn Park, will carry top weight of 123 while breaking from post 3.

Also in with 123 pounds is speedy import Tonito M., making his first start in North America for owner M Racing Group and Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. The Kentucky-bred son of Rock Hard Ten has won his past three starts and six of seven races in his career, all at Camarero Race Track in Puerto Rico. He was the odds-on choice in every start, winning at distances from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles.

To be ridden in his local debut by Rafael Bejarano, Tonito M. has been idle since an 11 1/2-length triumph over three rivals in the George Washington Stakes (PR-III) Feb. 16. He also won a grade I at Camarero, the Clasico Agustin Mercado Reveron Stakes going 1 1/16 miles last December over a muddy track. The bay colt has put in seven published workouts at Santa Anita since March 28. His most recent was a bullet six-furlong move out of the gate May 2 in 1:11 4/5.

Hollendorfer also entered Puppy Manners, who tries dirt for the first time after 10 starts on synthetic and turf. The Kitten's Joy  colt was eighth of nine in the Pasadena Stakes at one mile on turf March 22. That followed two encouraging late-running efforts over the Tapeta track at Golden Gate Fields, where he was fourth in both the California Derby and El Camino Real Derby (gr. III). Tyler Baze takes the call.

Ferocious and Chelios, first and second in a strong allowance/optional claiming heat April 12 at seven furlongs, both make their stakes debuts after three starts apiece. Ferocious, who won the earlier meeting by 2 1/2 lengths, is a son of Tale of the Cat  that races for Kretz Racing and trainer Ron Elllis. Glen Hill Farm owns Chelios, a colt by Distorted Humor  trained by Tom Proctor.

Rounding out the field are Top Fortitude, looking to rebound from a last-place finish in the aforementioned April 12 allowance/optional claimer, and first-out maiden winner Twenty Percent, trained by Doug O'Neill.

$100,000 Lazaro Barrera Stakes (gr. III, Race 7, 4 p.m.), 3YOs, 7 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Ferocious (KY), J Talamo, 118, R W Ellis
2. Tonito M. (KY), R Bejarano, 123, J Hollendorfer
3. Kobe's Back (KY), C S Nakatani, 123, J W Sadler
4. Chelios (KY), G L Stevens, 118, T F Proctor
5. Twenty Percent (MD), M E Smith, 118, D F O'Neill
6. Puppy Manners (KY), T Baze, 118, J Hollendorfer
7. Top Fortitude (AZ), K Stra, 118, R K Owens