Amazombie, defending champion of Saturday's Breeders' Cup Sprint, was put through what amounted to a faster-than-usual gallop on Thursday morning at Santa Anita under exercise rider Javier Meza that trainer Bill Spawr likened to the one or two days before the 2011 Sprint at Churchill Downs.
"He left the half-mile pole and did a two-minute clip," Spawr said. "We didn't want to throw any elevens (seconds for a furlong) at him. The rider came back and said he just galloped him. He did exactly what we wanted, the same thing he did last year. We don't want to change anything if it works."
Amazombie went out with the second set from the Spawr stable to go to the track. Even as a second-setter, the six-year-old Northern Afleet gelding was track-bound in the darkness just before 5 a.m. (PDT) followed by an entourage walking behind that included Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who will be aboard for the 11th consecutive time, the 18th of Amazombie's last 19 starts and the 22nd time in the champion's 29-race career.
The group followed Amazombie's progress most of the way around the track by watching a blinking red light on Meza's helmet, an innovation that Spawr assistant Chris Aplin utilized around racetracks for about 10 years. Aplin had Amazombie going the three-eighths to the wire in :38 1/5.
Spawr prefers heavier riders to muscle Amazombie in the morning, which explained Smith's status strictly as an observer. Smith has guided Amazombie to 10 of his 12 career victories. Twice with Smith aboard Amazombie crossed under the wire first only to be taken down via disqualification.
"I don't get on him in the mornings, but he looked to me like he's doing really good and all systems are go," Smith said on the way back from trackside to barn 37.
"He's naturally quick on his own and he's not going to be too far out of it. When he fires, he'll run over anything. He might favor one surface a little over another, but he's ready and I think the track will be good and he'll run over it."
Trainer Bob Baffert's Sprint threesome of Capital Account, Coil and Fast Bullet all were gallopers at Santa Anita Thursday morning and all appeared at the ready to deliver good performances in Saturday's Sprint that normally names America's fastest horse.
The Hall of Fame trainer has different reasons to like each one of them in the six-furlong race.
"Fast Bullet, he's just a fast horse," Baffert said. "He's appropriately named. No telling how quick he might run.
"Capital Account is all racehorse. You know, I think the six furlongs may be too short for him, but he's going to run big anyway. I wish I had had the guts to put him in the (Dirt) Mile. He'll run a mile and he'd be a good miler. But he's sprinting Saturday and we'll hope for some good luck.
"Coil could be a good miler, too. He can run two turns. But when we brought him back (from a near-10-month stint on the sidelines) we just got behind on him. It was all about the timing. The horse won a Grade 1 sprint (Santa Anita Sprint Championship [formerly Ancient Title]), so we know he's a good sprinter. That's not bad. He might have the edge at six furlongs."
Barry K. Schwartz's gray New York-bred colt The Lumber Guy strutted his stuff Thursday morning during a 1 3/8-miles gallop on the main track.
"I was very happy," trainer Mike Hushion said. "He was showing himself off pretty good. The photographers picked up on him pretty quickly. He's got a nice presence."
The Lumber Guy, whose dam, Boltono, died the day after he was foaled in April 2009, earned his trip to the Sprint with a victory in the Grade 1 Vosburgh on September 29 at Belmont Park. The Grand Slam colt was the lesser half of the favored entry with Sean Avery, but made a name for himself with a 1 1/4-length victory.
The Lumber Guy is Hushion's third Breeders' Cup starter.
"The other two times that I went, it was a 'we'll take a shot' type of thing, but here I think I've got a loaded gun," Hushion noted. "If we get a little luck in the trip, it's going to be very interesting."
When trainer Shivananda Parbhoo saddles Trinniberg in the Sprint, it will cap off a remarkable 12 months in which the Calder-based owner/conditioner ran horses in two Breeders' Cups, the Kentucky Derby and in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen on Dubai World Cup day.
"It's been unbelievable," the Trinidad and Tobago native said. "My family has been training horses for a while, but we really just got going full-time in the business a few years ago. So to have started horses in races like the ones we have; words can't describe.
"But the time for sightseeing is over. We're all business this year, and we're here to win this race."
Parbhoo credits several people with the Parbhoo family's rapid ascent in the racing industry, most notably those aiding in the day-to-day activities of running the barn.
"Believe me, my help is the very best," Parbhoo said. "This guy right here that I brought with me to California, Oscar (Sotelo), is the best anywhere. We wouldn't be here without him, or any of the others that work with us back in Florida, New York, or wherever we have horses stabled."
Trinniberg will be the first Breeders' Cup starter for Parbhoo as trainer. When the colt ran in last year's Juvenile Sprint, Bisnath Parboo, Shivananda's father, was the trainer of record. The same is true of last year's Sprint participant Giant Ryan. Shivananda took over as trainer over in August 2012.
Jimmy Creed was back on the track Thursday for a gallop, one morning after he worked three furlongs in :35, second-fastest work for the distance at Santa Anita that day. The short work was meant as his last bit of fine-tuning for Saturday's Sprint that has drawn a full field of 14.
The three-year-old son of Distorted Humor "came out of that breeze just fine," trainer Richard Mandella said. "We really didn't ask him for all that much yesterday. He basically worked under a hold."
Just as Amazombie will be trying to defend his title in the Sprint, champion Musical Romance will be doing the same in the Filly & Mare Sprint.
For trainer and co-owner Bill Kaplan, this year's race will prove a bittersweet moment for the longtime conditioner who likely will bid farewell to his Eclipse Award-winning female sprinter following her run on Saturday.
"She's made my job a whole lot more fun these past few years," Kaplan said. "It's going to be really difficult saying goodbye."
Musical Romance, who has run 40 times in a career that dates back to September 2009, is scheduled to pass through sales ring at the Fasig-Tipton November sale. The five-year-old daughter of Concorde's Tune has won stakes on dirt, turf and synthetic tracks, at distances ranging from 5 1/2 furlongs to one mile.
"She's really a unique mare," Kaplan said. "Not only is she a Breeders' Cup champ, she is just an amazing animal. She has run 40 times and is a world-class sprinter, and that just doesn't happen; horses like that don't last. She runs on anything, and she is as sound today as she was back in her first race. She's one of a kind."
In order for Musical Romance to end her career with a successful title defense in the Filly & Mare Sprint, and perhaps as a repeat Eclipse Award champion, she will have to take down current divisional leader Groupie Doll, who enters the race having won four straight stakes.
"For any horse to go out there and win those races the way she has, by daylight, is impressive," Kaplan said of his rival. "We've faced her three times this year and she's beat us twice (in the Madison and Humana Distaff, both Grade 1s) while we got her once in the race at Gulfstream (Grade 2 Inside Information).
"But they did meet again, you know? Groupie Doll flew here with us from Keeneland and was in the next stall over from us; they were side-by-side on the flight. And my assistant Freddie (Guzman) told me that for much of the flight, Musical Romance was eyeballing her. So who knows, maybe she put the evil eye on her.
"All kidding aside, I believe my mare is better this year than she was last year, and we have no excuses at all going into the race."
Groupie Doll, the morning-line even-money favorite for the Filly & Mare Sprint, jogged one mile and galloped another eight furlongs shortly after 7 a.m. (PDT) Thursday morning with regular exercise rider Jada Schlenk aboard.
"She was very relaxed this morning," said Maria Kabel, assistant to trainer and part-owner Buff Bradley. "She will go out about six tomorrow morning and she is scheduled to school in the paddock with the first race tomorrow."
Bradley and his father, Fred, with whom he bred Groupie Doll, were scheduled to arrive in Southern California later Thursday morning.
Rajiv Maragh, who has been aboard Groupie Doll in her past five starts of which the past four have been daylight victories, will have the mount Saturday.
"The first time Rajiv worked her, she went a half-mile in :46 and he told Buff that he was going to win the Breeders' Cup on this horse," said Kabel, who has lived on the Bradleys' farm in Frankfort, Kentucky, for 14 years and galloped Groupie Doll's dam, Deputy Doll.
Filly & Mare Sprint runner Rumor also took to the track early Thursday morning. The Indian Charlie filly, a winner in five of 11 starts, was out at 6 a.m. for a jog alongside one of trainer Richard Mandella's stable ponies.
"She's been a good, steady filly for us," Mandella stated as he walked back to his Santa Anita barn.
Mandella was confident ahead of Saturday's race. "She'll knock 'em to their knees," he said with a smile.
If pressed, Mandella probably would have confessed the fact that his statement might have been slightly influenced by the lady who walked at his side, Dell Hancock of Kentucky's famous Claiborne Farm, part owner of Rumor.
Hancock, in from Kentucky the day before, talked about her filly's entry in the Filly & Mare Sprint.
"We were trying to decide whether or not to run her in the race and going 'round and 'round," she said. "Then in the end, we said, 'Let's just leave it up to Richard.' He's so good with the horses -- he always puts them first -- that we knew he'd do the right thing. I believe in him 100 percent. If he said to put her in the race, then I'd know he thought we'd have a shot. So we're in, and now we'll see how we do."
Hancock was asked if this might possibly be Rumor's last run; if she might be headed back to Kentucky as part of the Claiborne broodmare band.
"Let's see how she runs in this race first," she said. "It's not like she's had a lot of races."
Great Hot, the 30-1 morning-line longshot for the Filly & Mare Sprint, jogged 1 1/2 miles for trainer A.C. Avila, who conceded that Groupie Doll was the horse to beat in the race, having won four straight since the addition of blinkers.
Avila also said that track condition could be a major factor in the race.
"If it's hard like it was earlier in the meeting, there's going to be a lot of winners from the front. With this (warm) weather, they're going to have to put a lot of water on the track," Avila noted.