With Eastern-based John Velasquez in the saddle for trainer Todd Pletcher, 5-2 second-choice Cowboy Cal assumed command soon after the start. Despite drifting out in deep stretch, he gamely denied the closing surge of Informed, well-beaten at 44-1 in his only previous stakes try after being claimed for $25,000 last June.
The stewards ruled that, although the winner indeed drifted out, “he was clear of Well Armed when the rider checked.”
As a result, Cowboy Cal paid $7.60, $5 and $3.60. The prices on Informed, ridden by Michael Baze, were $22.80 and $12.20. Magnum, with Martin Pedroza aboard, returned $12 to show.
“This horse (Cowboy Cal) is basically a length from being a two-time Grade I winner,” noted Michael McCarthy, assistant to Pletcher. He referred to a three-quarter length defeat in last November’s Hollywood Derby and a neck loss in last April’s Blue Grass Stakes.
“Both races were tough beats,” added McCarthy, “and stung a little bit, but he’s a very good horse in his own right.”
A 4-year-old homebred son of Giant’s Causeway, Cowboy Cal earned $90,000 for owners Robert and Janice McNair to bring his career total to $597,708 from a 5-3-0 record in 10 starts. His only out-of-the money finishes were in his maiden debut and the 2008 Kentucky Derby. The McNairs also own the National Football League Houston Texans.
Velasquez said he did not intend to take the lead quite so soon on Saturday. “But when I took a hold of him going to the first turn, he took off,” said Velasquez. “I thought I’d be able to get him to rate, but he was very difficult to settle.
“On the backside I was able to get him to relax. When they came to him at the top of the stretch, I had a lot of horse. It seemed like he waited on the other horses, but when he got into the competition, he fought back.”
Informed, a 5-year-old trained by Doug O’Neill for a partnership, turned in the race of his life in defeat. His previous stakes venture was a tenth-place finish, 7 ¾ lengths behind Well Armed in Oak Tree’s Grade I Goodwood Stakes last October.
Assistant trainer McCarthy indicated that the tentative plan for Cowboy Cal would be Santa Anita’s Grade II, $250,000 Strub Stakes on Feb. 7 followed by the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 7.
A three-day carryover Saturday in Santa Anita’s Pick Six generated a pool of $4,315,719 in the popular exotic wager. Only one favorite was victorious in the Pick Six sequence, but none of the winners, including Cowboy Cal, returned a double-digit mutuel. There were 299 winning tickets in Saturday’s Pick Six, each paying $9,844.60.
Sunday’s nine-race program at the track is headed by the Grade III, $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.