Points Offthebench will take a four-race win streak into the Nov. 2 Xpressbet Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) following a sharp victory in the $250,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (gr. I) Oct. 5 (VIDEO).
The California-bred son of Benchmark held off 7-5 favorite Goldencents by half a length, completing the six-furlong test in a flashy 1:08 flat over a fast track.
Giving Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith his fourth win on the Saturday card, Points Offthebench registered his second straight grade I victory for trainer Tim Yakteen. Donnie Crevier and Charles V. Martin's dark bay 4-year-old gelding won the Bing Crosby (gr. I) at Del Mar July 28 and before that reeled off two victories in allowance/optional claiming company at Betfair Hollywood Park and Santa Anita Park.
Gary Rocks bred Points Offthebench out of the unraced Free House mare Mo Chuisle. Points Offthebench posted his sixth lifetime win from eight starts.
Goldencents, closing from mid-pack coming into the homestretch, was second while Distinctiv Passion stuck around for third in the seven-horse field after providing a sizzling tempo. Defending Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Trinniberg was last at odds of 7-2.
The race, known until last year as the Ancient Title Stakes, is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win & You're In" event. Immediately after the race, Yakteen said Points Offthebench would be pointed to the championship event Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
"Yes (we're going on to the Breeders' Cup Sprint)," Yakteen said. "This is my first grade I win at Santa Anita and only the second in my career (following the Bing Crosby). They're not too hard to count. The horse is a push-button (type). Horses like that, they make you look good."
Points Offthebench settled in fourth while on the outside as Distinctiv Passion and Edwin Maldonado sped to the early lead and left the pack five lengths behind, stepping lively quarter mile splits of :21.45 and :43.69. Points Offthebench, advancing into second on the turn as Roman Threat weakened, came off the turn three wide, breathing fire under rousing by Smith.
He drew within a length mid-stretch, but Distinctiv Passion was a stubborn foe and continued to lead to the sixteenth pole before Points Offthebench could get control while lugging in a bit.
After kicking clear in deep stretch, Points Offthebench had enough in reserve to hold off the onrushing Goldencents. The latter closed willingly through the lane for Rafael Bejarano, but came up second as the favorite for the third straight time.
"Maldonado (on Distinctiv Passion) looked like he was getting away from us and I wanted to try and time it with this horse because if you hit the front too soon, he pulls up a little," said Smith, whose big day included three stakes wins. "Then I looked up and he was going a whole lot easier than he was supposed to be. He has some turn of foot, and I hit the front too soon, but he still held on. He pulled up nice and happy, well within himself. He's a very talented horse."
Points Offthebench defeated the Doug O'Neill-trained Goldencents by a head in the Bing Crosby, and the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner this spring was also second in the Pat O'Brien (gr. II) at Del Mar as the odds-on pick.
Leandro Mora, assistant to O'Neill, said Goldencents will probably stretch out to a mile.
"It doesn't seem like he is a sprinter," Mora said. "We tried, but he is trying to tell us that he is not. He can run everywhere we put him, but he's not a sprinter. Even Rafael said, 'please, let's go longer.' He's got a great kick. The Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. I) is next, definitely."
Now 3-for-4 in his career at Santa Anita, Points Offthebench extended his career earnings to $514,940 and returned $11.20, $4.60, and $3 as the third choice. He carried co-high weight of 124 pounds.
Yakteen, after what he called "the biggest win of my career," said the race set up well for Points Offthebench.
"The horse is quirky. I don't want him to hit the lead too soon, because he'll wait on horses," he said. "I think Rafael (Bejarano on Goldencents) is very well aware of that and he came wide with Goldencents, who was coming late, but we had inherited the lead. This was a tough, tough race. This is special."
Goldencents, who carried 123, was 2 1/2 lengths clear of Distinctiv Passion and returned $3.20 and rounded out a $27.20 exacta.
The show payoff on Distinctiv Passion was $5.40 in his graded stakes debut for trainer Jeff Bonde.
Gonna Fly Now was 4 1/2 lengths farther back in fourth, nipping Roman Threat and Triple Bend Handicap (gr. I) winner Centralinteligence, with Trinniberg last after yielding on the turn.
"What can you say? His first jump was good; after that, the race was over," said Jose Valdivia Jr. after riding Trinniberg for the first time. "I'm baffled."