It may be the East Coast, but it’s still Bob Baffert’s world.
American Anthem spurted away from 10 foes to easily win the $500,000 Woody Stephens Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds June 10 at Belmont Park, handing the Hall of Fame trainer his third victory on the card following wins from West Coast in the Easy Goer Stakes and Abel Tasman in the Acorn Stakes (G1). Mike Smith was aboard for all three Baffert wins plus Songbird’s victory in the Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1).
Recruiting Ready was prominent early in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens, grabbing the lead from Hard Scramble and covering the first quarter-mile in :21.79. Wild Shot and American Anthem were just behind that duo in the second flight.
Recruiting Ready maintained his advantage through a half-mile in :44.81 but as the field got halfway through the turn, American Anthem, the 9-5 favorite, made a big sweeping move to the lead and immediately assumed the advantage, passing the six-furlong mark in 1:09.35. Giuseppe the Great was making headway down near the rail, but American Anthem gave the field the slip and skipped away to win by 3 1/4 lengths in 1:22.14 over a track rated fast.
"The odds are usually against you but so far we've had a good trips and good horses," Baffert said. "All you can ask for is that they run as well as they ship. There's a lot of pressure on a big day. You don't want to embarrass a good horse on a big day."
Giuseppe the Great held second by 2 ½ lengths from Recruiting Ready, with Petrov, shortening up to one turn, finishing fourth.
American Anthem is owned by the partnership of WinStar Farm, Head of Plains Partners, China Horse Club International, and SF Racing. The son of Bodemeister —Indy's Windy, by A.P. Indy, was bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm.
American Anthem was entering off a solid victory in the May 13 Lazaro Barrera Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park. He had run poorly in the Rebel Stakes (G2) and Santa Anita Derby (G1) before being pulled off the Triple Crown trail, and has proven better suited to the shorter distances, having finished a head in back of Gormley in the one-mile Sham Stakes (G3) after having broken his maiden at six furlongs first-time out.
"We kept trying to jump into the Triple Crown thing with him," Smith said. "It might have been a little too much for him at the time. Bob did a great job of assessing that and knowing that and backing way off him. He started back and got him back running short and we'll go from there, see if we can stretch him out later."
American Anthem returned $5.90, $4.60, and $3.10, while Giuseppe the Great paid $18 ad $11.20, and Recruiting Ready was good for $4.70 to show.