The best is yet to come from Amazombie. So says a man who knows, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who has ridden the California-bred gelding 16 times in his 23 career starts, crossing the wire first 10 times, (he was disqualified from winning the Los Angeles Handicap last May and placed third).
Their landmark victory came in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs last Nov. 5, when Smith guided Amazombie to a neck victory at 7-1 under 126 pounds in the six furlong race. That triumph earned Amazombie an Eclipse Award as outstanding male sprinter of 2011.
Amazombie, who has earned $1,525,708, was scheduled to make his 2012 debut in the Palos Verdes Stakes on Jan. 21, but was scratched due to an off track. Now comes the countdown to Saturday, when Smith and trainer Bill Spawr, who owns Amazombie with Tom Sanford, hope the San Carlos leads to their ultimate goal: another chance for gold and glory in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint Nov. 3, this year on their home course, Santa Anita Park.
“We ain’t seen the best of him,” said Smith, who is just 11 wins shy of 5,000 in his illustrious career. “I know he’s getting older, but man, he’s just getting right. I mean in November (for the Breeders’ Cup), Bill had him really, really good, but from the looks of things, and you don’t know it till they run, but he seems to have even gotten better.
“I know Alex (Bisono, who has worked Amazombie in his last few drills leading to the San Carlos) knows he has. He told me the other day the horse is a machine, and he never said that about him before. Bill is beside himself with this horse right now.
“I know the horse is doing well. It’s just a matter of getting the trip. There’re going to be some fast ones in there, and he won’t be far off them himself. He’ll be a little fresh first time back. Hopefully he’ll settle two, three, four lengths off of it and come with a run.
“He’s learned how to run now. He’s gotten really smart about it. He’s got a good cruising speed and I mean he just punches that last quarter of a mile. He just does enough (to win). He’s gotten like Zenyatta used to do—just enough.
“She never was one to want to go away and win by 10. He’s the same way. The Breeders’ Cup, he could have drawn away. I was pretty well within myself at the wire; he was just waiting. He got to ‘em quick and easy and got on by them and opened up a half a length and won only by a neck because he was waiting. But once he got back to his neck (lead), he locked on them.”
In other San Carlos news:
Bob Baffert said he would work The Factor on Tuesday before deciding whether or not to run the Malibu Stakes winner in the San Carlos.
Mensa Heat worked six furlongs on Santa Anita’s main track Sunday in 1:11.20 with Joe Talamo aboard. “He worked great,” trainer Ted H. West said of the On Trust Handicap winner, who was third last out in the Grade II Palos Verdes Stakes on Jan. 21.
CECIL SENDS OUT THREE RUNNERS IN MONDAY’S BUENA VISTA
Ben Cecil will send out three horses in Monday’s Grade II, $150,000 Buena Vista Handicap. It won’t be the first time the 43-year-old trainer has run three horses in a stakes race.
“We ran three in the Yorba Buena at Golden Gate one year, I think it was about 10 years ago,” Cecil said. “We won it that day with a longshot named Miss Universal.”
Cecil will employ saddling help in the Buena Vista, in which he has entered Andina, So Belle and Strawberrydaiquiri.
Asked what instructions he might offer his riders, Cecil smiled and said: “Stay out of each other’s way. Just get in everyone else’s way.”
If he had his druthers, would he root for a dead-heat? “No,” Cecil said. “You’re either going to have three disappointed owners or two.”
The field for the Buena Vista: Wild Mia, David Flores, 6-1; Strawberrydaiquiri, Joel Rosario, 4-1; Cambina, Mike Smith, 4-1; Camille C, Kayla Stra, 30-1; Vamo a Galupiar, Joe Talamo, 7-2; Sweetly Peppered, Kevin Krigger, 30-1; Up in Time, Brice Blanc, 6-1; Andina, Frederic Lenclud, 8-1; City to City, Corey Nakatani, 6-1; So Belle, Chantal Sutherland, 20-1; and Briecat, Victor Espinoza, 8-1.
Santa Anita offers $2 beers, hot dogs and soft drinks on Presidents’ Day. First post time is 12:30 p.m. Gates open at 10:30 a.m.
NEWCOMERS AID SANTA ANITA JOCKEYS IN CHARITY GAME NEXT THURSDAY
Kurt Hoover is hoping the addition of youth, size and quickness will supplement his accomplished coaching skills when Santa Anita’s jockeys tip off against Holy Angels School’s seventh graders at La Salle High School in Pasadena on Thursday, Feb. 23
“With newcomers Edwin Maldonado (at five feet, six inches tall) and Keibar Coa (19 years old and cat-quick), we should have more size underneath and overall speed,” said Hoover, who played high school ball at Arcadia High and now is a resident racing guru on HRTV.
“We’re looking for a repeat win, but hope we don’t have to go into overtime and win at the buzzer like we did last year (36-35), although that would be exciting for the fans,” Hoover added.
Proceeds from the game will benefit the Holy Angels athletic program and the Kentucky-based Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF). Game time is 7 p.m.
Hall of Fame riders Eddie Delahoussaye, Laffit Pincay Jr., Gary Stevens and Mike Smith will be available from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. and at halftime to autograph photos and other memorabilia. They will all serve as honorary captains as well. David Flores will again be the jockeys’ game captain.
The Eye on Jacob Foundation will co-sponsor the event. The Eye on Jacob Foundation is named for the 13-year-old son of Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, who was diagnosed several years ago with Usher’s Syndrome, a rare disorder that causes loss of hearing, imbalance and eventual loss of sight in approximately 12,000 children in the United States.
The Santa Anita jockey team is expected to include: Flores, Paul Atkinson, Rafael Bejarano, Hector Berrios, Brice Blanc, Antonio Castanon, Keiber Coa, Omar Figueroa, Eswan Flores, Martin Garcia, Mario Gutierrez, Kevin Krigger, Modesto Linares, Edwin Maldonado, Corey Nakatani, Alonso Quinonez, Joel Rosario, Christian Santiago Reyes, Kayla Stra, Chantal Sutherland, Mike Smith, Joe Talamo and perhaps others.
La Salle High School is located at the southwest corner of Michillinda Ave. and Sierra Madre Blvd. in Pasadena, approximately four miles northwest of Santa Anita Park. Admission is $5.
BIG ’CAP DRAW BREAKFAST SET FOR WEDNESDAY, FEB. 29
The 75th running of the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap will take place on Saturday March 3, and the Big ’Cap Draw Breakfast will be held by invitation only, beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Wed., Feb. 29, in the track’s Baldwin Terrace, above the Top 0’ the Stretch area.
It is expected that the Bob Baffert-conditioned Game on Dude, who is owned in- part by Joe Torre’s Diamond Pride Stable, will a attempt to join John Henry (1981-’82), Milwaukee Brew (2002-’03), and Lava Man (2006-’07), as the fourth two-time winner of “The Grandaddy of Them All.”
Game on Dude will again be ridden by Chantal Sutherland, who became the first-ever female jockey to win the Big ’Cap last year. Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella has committed his Setsuko to another Big ’Cap engagement and he’ll once again be ridden by Victor Espinoza. Setsuko was second beaten a nose by Game on Dude in last year’s edition and in Mandella’s opinion could have been declared the winner following a lengthy stewards inquiry.
Eighteen horses have been nominated to the Big ’Cap, with weights to be announced Feb. 25.
One of the sharpest older horses in America, B.J. Wright’s Ultimate Eagle, is fresh off a smashing win in the Grade II Strub Stakes on Feb. 4 and his trainer, Mike Pender, has said the Kentucky-bred colt by Mizzen Mast will run in the Big Cap’ and be ridden again by Martin Pedroza.
Trainer Julio Canani has indicated that his 7-year-old California-bred gelding Holladay Road, an impressive 2 ½ length winner of the 1 1/16 mile Crystal Water Stakes on Jan. 28, will start in the Big ’Cap “if the weights are right.”
Santa Anita Racing Secretary Rick Hammerle is expecting a field of “between eight and 10 horses” for the mile and a quarter classic.
HRTV’S STEVENS TO ANNOUNCE WOOLF WINNER FEB. 26
Retired Hall of Fame jockey and current HRTV analyst Gary Stevens will announce the winner of the 2012 Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award on HRTV following the sixth race on Sunday, Feb. 26. The announcement will be included in HRTV’s “Grandstand,” segment which airs mid-afternoons on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
This year’s Woolf finalists are Ramon Dominguez, Corey Lanerie, Martin Pedroza, DeShawn Parker and Scott Stevens.
The award, named in honor of the legendary George “The Iceman” Woolf, who died following a spill on Santa Anita’s Club House turn on Jan. 3, 1946, has been presented annually by Santa Anita since 1950. Stevens, who also has a current starring role in HBO’s LUCK, won the 1996 Woolf Award.
SANTA ANITA FANS SAVOR GUILLOT’S FIRST-EVER CAJUN FOOD BASH
Santa Anita offers its thanks to trainer Eric Guillot, his brother, Chip, and other members of his entourage for their time and effort in presenting free Cajun goodies at Clockers’ Corner Sunday morning in conjunction with the first-ever “Mardi Gras Parte” at The Great Race Place Sunday.
“We’ve done this in my home state of Louisiana many times, and in Kentucky, Saratoga and Del Mar,” said Guillot, who estimated more than 300 persons received the repast, consisting of stuffed bell peppers, sausages, stuffed pork chops and the piece de resistance, gumbo.
The Mardi Gras Parte continued Sunday in Santa Anita’s infield, featuring two-steppin’ music and Cajun cooking from the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” of seasons one and two.
GARRETT GOMEZ GUEST ON HRTV TOMORROW AT 3:30 P.M.
Injured Eclipse Award-winning jockey Garrett Gomez, who hopes to return to the saddle early next month, will guest on-set with hosts Laffit Pincay III and Aaron Vercruysse on HRTV at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow.
Bill Casner of WinStar Farm fame, whose major winners include Colonel John, Bluegrass Cat and Well Armed, and 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, of which he was part owner, will be featured on HRTV’s acclaimed “Across the Board” show on Wednesday at 5 p.m.
The following Wednesday, Feb. 29, jockey Martin Pedroza, a finalist for Santa Anita’s George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award this year, and his long-time agent, Richie Silverstein, will guess on the show co-hosted by Becky Witzman and Peter Lurie host the show.
BOOK SIGNING BY BEST-SELLING AUTHOR WAS BIG SUCCESS
Last Saturday’s book-signing at Champions Book Shop by author Elizabeth Letts of her New York Times best seller, “The Eighty Dollar Champion" was a huge success.
More than 50 books were sold. “One fan bought two books, had them signed and then asked us to take them to the Arcadia Public Library as an anonymous donation,” related Chris Crocker of Champions Gift Shop, where the book was on sale.
“He just thought the library should have more horse books. We were thrilled with the overall response to the book-signing and I’m sure everyone will enjoy the heart-warming story.”
The book chronicles the true-life story of Snowman, a plow horse rescued from slaughter, who goes on to win the national jumping championships in 1958, and along the way, inspires a nation.
FINISH LINES: J. Paul Reddam’s Boxeur des Rues, who worked five furlongs on Santa Anita’s main track Saturday in a bullet 58.20 for Doug O’Neill, is being pointed to the Santa Anita Handicap on March 3, said Doug’s brother, Dennis. “He worked crazy,” said Dennis. “He went out in 10 and change (for six furlongs) and was in behind two horses because we wanted to see how he handled dirt getting kicked back at him. He handled it very well.” Jockey Mario Gutierrez, who rode Reddam’s I’ll Have Another to an upset win in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, was aboard for the drill . . . Strub Stakes winner Ultimate Eagle worked six furlongs for the Big ‘Cap on Hollywood’s Cushion Track Sunday in 1:11.40 for Mike Pender, while Pender’s Jeranimo, ticketed for the Grade I Kilroe Mile on March 3, went five furlongs in 59.40 . . . San Pedro winner Midnight Transfer worked seven furlongs in company with Irish Art at Santa Anita Sunday for the March 10 San Felipe Stakes. Midnight Transfer went in 1:25.20 under Joel Rosario, while Irish Art was clocked in 1:26. “He went fantastic,” trainer Carla Gaines said of Midnight Transfer. We worked in company to give him a target and because it was a two-turn work.” . . . Midnight Crooner, impressive 7 ½-length maiden winner for owner Arnold Zetcher over Golden Gate’s synthetic Tapeta surface Saturday, is being considered for the Grade I, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Keeneland’s Polytrack surface on March 14, Bob Baffert said Sunday morning. “I wanted to see how he handles the synthetic up there,” Baffert said of the son of War Chant. “We’ll look at the Blue Grass if all goes well.” . . . Revised all-sources handle was up substantially from the $5,546,206.05 initially reported last Friday. The correct total was $6,807,843.25.