The prohibitive favorite Surf Cat, ridden patiently by Alex Solis, rolled over his four rivals with an impressive burst in the stretch to take the $128,000 Potrero Grande Breeder's Cup Handicap (gr. II) by more than two lengths at Santa Anita Sunday.
The 4-year-old son of Sir Cat
was nearly 10 lengths off the pace heading into the turn as three of his four rivals engaged in a blistering battle on the front end. Surf Cat, carrying top weight of 119 pounds as the 1-5 choice, began to move up near the quarter pole and closed powerfully from the middle of the track under mild urging to take command with a sixteenth of a mile to go. The final time for the 6 1/2-furlong test was a solid 1:15.
"Like Mr. Ron McAnally would say, 'a no-brainer,'" said Solis, who rode Surf Cat for the eighth consecutive race. "I just had to hold on. He's just a good horse. He'll do some great things, God willing, he stays healthy."
Surf Cat won the seven-furlong San Carlos Handicap (gr. II) by a similar margin in his previous start Feb. 18 at Santa Anita, where he has been victorious in four of six starts with a pair of seconds. Trained by Bruce Headley for his wife Aase and Marsha Naify, the dark bay colt has now won three races in a row.
Headley said Surf Cat would not go to the Metropolitan Mile Handicap (gr. I) in New York May 29, but instead would stay home to try the 1 1/16-mile Mervin Leroy Handicap (gr. II) May 13 at Hollywood Park. After that, Headley is looking at the 1 1/8-mile Californian (gr. II) June 17 and the Hollywood Gold Cup Handicap (gr. I) July 8. Surf Cat won the nine-furlong Swaps Breeders' Cup (gr. II) as a 3-year-old last summer.
A confirmed stalker, Surf Cat got just what he wanted when the expected pacesetter, Grinding It Out, was challenged on his inside by Areyoutalkintome at the rail and Keep On Punching between horses. With Areyoutalkintome's head in front, the trio clicked off fractions of :21 3/5 and :44 1/5. Surf Cat, along with Oceanus, fell well off the pace as they flew down the backstretch. As they wound their way around the turn, Areyoutalkintome, still under pressure, came off the rail slightly, forcing his rivals out a couple of paths in upper stretch. That forced Surf Cat even wider as he took aim at the leaders, but it mattered little as he reached even terms in mid-stretch. Surf Cat was soon in control, winning by 2 1/4 lengths under a hold.
Headley, who won his sixth Potrero Grande, said he wasn't worried about Surf Cat falling so far behind the leaders.
"No, because that's what he likes to do," Headley said. "He likes to stalk. Alex knows him very well, and we weren't concerned."
Grinding It Out, ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., finished best of the rest to get second, followed by Oceanus and Omar Berrio. Areyoutalkintome, who was ridden by Felipe Martinez in the 41-year-old jockey's final stakes race, finished fourth. Keep On Punching trailed.
The Kentucky-bred Surf Cat, a $25,000 Fasig-Tipton buy in February 2003, has six wins – including three grade II victories – and three seconds in 10 lifetime starts. He earned $60,000 Sunday to run his career bankroll to $472,420.
The winner paid $2.40, $2.10, and $2.10. Grinding It Out, making his stakes debut for trainer Neil French, returned $2.60 and $2.10. The Brazilian-bred Oceanus, who was also third behind Surf Cat in the San Carlos, was $2.10 to show.