Arcadia, Calif.--It's a tad early to be declaring anyone claiming graduate of the year, but Zappa made a preliminary case earlier this month when he won the Grade II San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita. Some classy horses have won the San Pasqual--try Silver Charm, Farma Way, Criminal Type, Precisionist, Flying Paster, Ack Ack and Native Diver--but none of them went into the race with such a checkered career as Zappa.

When trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, at Bay Meadows last April, picked up Zappa for $32,000, it was the fifth time since the fall of 2006 that the 6-year-old gelding had changed hands via the claiming box. Zappa had been claimed for $25,000 and $20,000 twice each before that.

Hollendorfer's claim, on behalf of the brothers Gary and Cecil Barber, has been a windfall since Zappa switched from Hollendorfer's Bay Area haunts to John Sadler's barn at Hollywood Park. Sadler took a chance, running Zappa for a $40,000 tag at Hollywood, but since then, in six starts, Zappa has four wins and a second in seven tries. The San Pasqual was his first stakes win, in the 27th race of his career.

"Usually, when you get a horse out of the claiming ranks, soundness is an issue," Sadler said. "But this horse was very sound when I got him, and he really likes the synthetic surface."

Over Cushion Track at Hollywood and Santa Anita, Zappa has three wins and a third in four starts. He trained at Hollywood in preparation for the San Pasqual.

Sadler can explain both of Zappa's fifth-place finishes while under his care.

"He drew the outside post in a field of 11 for that race at Ellis Park," the trainer said. "If he hadn't already been on the plane to go back there, we wouldn't have run him. Still, he only got beat a length. The other fifth was when we tried him on the turf at Del Mar."

Under Joe Rosario, who scored his first stakes win at Santa Anita, Zappa went off 13-1 in the San Pasqual. Next comes the big jump for Zappa. Sadler has his eyes on the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap on March 1, preceded by a possible start in the San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 3. Zappa won't be a secret in either one of them.