The fate of the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes (G2) was clear at the quarter pole.
The fractions on the tote board were blazing and only one horse was making a run from behind.
The black and gold silks of West Point Thoroughbreds, carried by Kanthaka, were streaking in the final turn, as the rest of the field looked like it needed a breather.
In fifth—7 1/2 lengths back after a first quarter-mile in :22 flat and seven lengths back after a half-mile in :44.25 set by dueling leaders Ax Man and Mr. Jagermeister—Kanthaka saved ground in the turn of the seven-furlong test, tipped out four-wide to scoot past his tiring rivals at the top of the lane, and powered away to win the San Vicente by 3 1/4 lengths under jockey Flavien Prat. The son of Jimmy Creed hit the wire in 1:22.62.
"He gave me a great run and he did everything right," Prat said. "He broke like a bullet, but then we had quite a lot of speed in front of us. So he sat really nicely behind the speed and made a really nice run around the turn. And after that it was done."
Ax Man's journey with the rail draw in the six-colt field was far from ideal. The Bob Baffert-trained Misremembered colt who won his debut by 9 1/2 lengths didn't break best, had to quicken to keep up with longshot Minnesota-bred Mr. Jagermeister in the chute, and got locked in on the rail for the duel, which clearly took its toll.
"I was completely screwed by (Mr. Jagermeister)," said Ax Man's jockey, Drayden Van Dyke. "He had me down on the rail and he was done at the three-eighths pole, but he kept me in tight. My horse got tired, but he never got a breather. I would completely throw this race out."
The setup was there for Kanthaka, but the other closer in the field, Kris' Rocket Kat, never made up significant ground and only beat Mr. Jagermeister to the wire.
"We thought we had a good chance, because we thought a lot of speed would be in there, which there was," said winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. "They went :22 and :44, so we thought we might have a chance to close them down, especially the way he broke his maiden. He got in trouble, and then still won, so that was pretty impressive."
Kanthaka earned his maiden victory Dec. 26 at Santa Anita—and at the same seven-furlong trip—despite steadying in the turn, to win by a neck. On Saturday he found no trouble and provided his owners with their 100th stakes win.
"This feels great," said Jeff Lifson of West Point Thoroughbreds. "It never gets old. ... He responded well in the stretch and we knew he tries really hard, and he lived up to what we thought he could do. So we're really happy.
"We're hoping he can stretch out. We'll find that out, but I have a feeling we'll try two turns and will see how it goes."
Bred in Kentucky by Spendthrift Farm, out of the Noonmark mare Sliced Bread, Kanthaka now has two wins from three starts and $153,440 in earnings. He was a $140,000 purchase by West Point out of the Barretts March sale of selected 2-year-olds in training in 2017.