Hard-trying Amazombie, closing with abandon on the far outside for jockey Mike Smith, nipped Captain Cherokee by a head in a terrific finish to the $150,000 Potrero Grande Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park April 3 (VIDEO) .
Four different horses held the lead in the stretch but Amazombie owned it when they took the picture, just getting up in time to give 71-year-old trainer Bill Spawr his first-ever win in the 6 1/2-furlong Potrero Grande. The final time was a sharp 1:14.26 on a fast track.
Amazombie, a 5-year-old California-bred son of Northern Afleet owned by Spawr and Tom Sanford, has had a big Santa Anita meet in 2011, winning the Sunshine Millions Sprint Jan. 29 and also finishing second in the Sensational Star Handicap on grass in his most recent try Feb. 27. It was the first graded-stakes victory for Amazombie, who has won seven of his past 11 starts with two seconds and a third -- all with Smith aboard.
"He’s one of the coolest little horses I’ve been around," Smith said. "He’s just so full of class, and he knows what he’s out there for.”
Gregg Anderson bred the bay gelding who is out of the In Excess mare Wilshe Amaze.
"This horse is the real deal," said Spawr, who is winning at a better than 30% rate at the meet with limited starters. "Nobody believes in him. He’s better on dirt. He’s a dirt horse. He came into this just perfect. If you don’t understand perfect, just look at his body. Anyway, we’re excited.”
A field of 10 contested the Potrero Grande, with grade I winner M One Rifle, in his first start since last July, setting a blazing early pace ahead of Captain Cherokee, Atta Boy Roy , and Bet On Victor. Fractions were :21.41 for the quarter-mile and :43.45 for the half as Bet On Victor briefly put a head in front.
M One Rifle, pressed hard on the turn by Bet On Victor, took a slight lead into the stretch along the inside for Chantal Sutherland but could not hold back the challenge of the stalking Ventana, looking for a repeat of his win in last year's Potrero Grande. Up on the outside for Martin Garcia, Ventana had a narrow advantage past the eighth pole before Captain Cherokee, with Joe Talamo, inched past.
But Amazombie, closing from fifth while four paths wide at mid-stretch, had the new leader in his sights, and those two gutted it out in the final strides with Amazombie prevailing under urging from Smith.
Captain Cherokee, who had runner-up finishes behind Euroears in the Palos Verdes Stakes (gr. II) and Smiling Tiger in the San Carlos Handicap (gr. II) already at the meet, was forced to settle for a tough-luck second once more. The Steve Asmussen trainee was 2 1/4 lengths in front of Ventana, who edged M One Rifle for third by a half-length.
"I just kept on needling my way out and I finally got out in the clear," Smith said of his trip. "I was able to sit there and make a run with Asmussen’s horse. We both fought it out to the end."
Crown of Thorns, the 9-5 favorite making his first start since finishing second in Oak Tree's Goodwood Stakes (gr. I) last October at Hollywood Park, was never a factor while finishing seventh.
Amazombie earned $90,000 while improving his career mark to 7-4-2 in 17 starts. He has banked $418,708.
Sent off as the second choice, Amazombie carried 118 pounds and paid $9.20, $4.40, and $3.20 and keyed a $36.80 exacta. Captain Cherokee returned $5.20 and $4. Ventana, who has now lost four in a row for trainer Bob Baffert since winning last year's Potrero Grande, returned $4.40 to show.