Heavy favorite Tapizar dictated the pace under Corey Nakatani and was never threatened as he drew away in the stretch to post an easy victory in the $150,000 San Fernando Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Jan. 14 (VIDEO).
Winchell Thoroughbreds' strapping homebred, trained by Steve Asmussen, was making his first start since a fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs.
Tapizar, sent off at 11-10 odds, posted a 3 1/2-length victory over the late-running Balladry, who nosed second choice Prayer for Relief for the runner-up spot. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile test of 4-year-olds was 1:41.94 on a fast track.
The winning son of Tapit out of the Deputy Minister mare Winning Call figures to be the favorite for the Strub Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 4 and a major contender for the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 3.
"Hopefully we’ll have a lot to say about the rest of the meet," Asmussen said.
Leaving from the far outside gate in the field of seven, Tapizar broke with the leaders and floated a bit wide into the clubhouse turn while taking the lead from Prayer for Relief, Riveting Reason, and Irish Art. The big bay colt settled into a nice stride while racing a bit off the rail, turning in sharp quarter-mile splits of :23, :46.45, and 1:10.88.
Nakatani gave Tapizar a bit of a breather on the turn, allowing Prayer for Relief to draw closer. But Tapizar picked up the pace leaving the quarter pole and Prayer for Relief came under pressure from Rafael Bejarano to keep up as they reached the stretch. Tapizar opened up a clear adavnatage in the lane and had no dangers while kept to his task in the final furlong by Nakatani.
“He’s a really big and muscular horse," Nakatani said. "He’s huge. When you get him in that high cruising speed he just seems to do it so easy. Steve (Asmussen) and I just wanted to get him to relax and run his race, and that’s what he did. Forty six and change is cruising speed for him. He’s a horse that just has so much natural raw ability.
"He ran a tremendous race today, and with his athletic ability, he’s such an amazing horse.”
Balladry, ridden by Joe Talamo, rallied gamely from sixth on the far turn to nip the 123-pound high weight Prayer for Relief for second.
Tapizar registered the second graded stakes win of his career, both coming at Santa Anita. As a 3-year-old last year, Tapizar romped in the Sham Stakes (gr. III) and appeared to be a major contender for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). But a knee chip discovered after Tapizar's fifth-place finish in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) landed him on the sidelines until last fall.
"Hopefully we won’t get off track with him this year," Asmussen said. "We’re very pleased with today’s race and hopefully he’ll come out of it good.
"He was unfortunate to get hurt," Asmussen added, "but I think that he’s put in very good works before this race and we expect everything to go forward well.”
With the victory, his fourth in nine lifetime starts, Tapizar boosted his career bankroll to $263,032.
Tapizar carried 118 pounds and paid $4.20, $3.60, $2.60. Balladry, making his stakes debut for trainer Eoin Harty, returned $9.60 and $3.80. The exacta was worth $41.80. Prayer for Relief, who could have given trainer Bob Baffert a record fifth San Fernando victory, was $2.40 to show.
Riveting Reason finished fourth, followed by Spud Spivens, Irish Art, and First Strike. Dreaminofthewin scratched.