Following a weather-related delay, Amazombie sets forth on becoming
only the second horse in history to gain a second successive Eclipse
Award as North America’s champion sprinter when facing five challengers
Saturday in Santa Anita’s 74th running of the Grade II, $200,000 San
Carlos Stakes at seven furlongs.
An off-track tabled the 6-year-old California-bred gelding’s
scheduled return in the Jan. 21 Palos Verdes Stakes (Grade II). Weather
is not expected to be a factor when Amazombie finally resurfaces from
his gutsy neck victory over Force Freeze at 7-1 odds in the Grade I,
$1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5.
By all accounts, trainer and co-owner Bill Spawr’s late-blooming
champion is primed to launch his 2012 campaign. He faces a formidable
test against a solid cast that includes trainer Bob Baffert’s The
Factor, sizzling winner of the Grade I Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs
on the Santa Anita meet’s opening day, Dec. 26.
“It’s hard to surpass the year he had (in 2011), but we feel he
could be as good,” said Spawr, who owns the winner of $1,525,708 in
partnership with Tom Sanford. “We ain’t seen the best of him,” declared
Mike Smith, aboard for 12 of Amazombie’s last 13 starts. Should
Amazombie earn another Sprint Eclipse this year, he would join
Housebuster (1990-91) as the only two-time winner.
Hall of Fame jockey Smith, who is now just 10 wins shy of 5,000
career victories, was along for the complete ride last year when
Amazombie’s career soared. A non-stakes winner in 14 starts entering his
5-year-old season, the son of Northern Afleet never finished out of the
money last year while posting a 5-1-3 record in 9 starts and earning
$1,327,000. During his two previous seasons of racing, Amazombie had
earned virtually one-tenth of what he took in during his championship
“I know he’s getting older, but man, he’s just getting right,”
said the 46-year-old Smith. “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 until they run, he seems to have gotten even better.”
Smith referred to fellow jockey Alex Bisono, who regularly
exercises Amazombie. “I know Alex knows he has (gotten better),” said
Smith. “He told me the other day the horse is a machine, and he never
said that about him before. Bill (Spawr) is beside himself with this
horse right now.”
Coming off some down time ought not to be a concern. The bay
gelding, bred by Gregg Anderson, has been victorious on each of the past
four occasions when returning from a layoff. Amazombie will break from
post position No. 2 on Saturday.
The presence of The Factor makes Amazombie’s assignment all the
more interesting. They met once before, and it was only two races back
for Amazombie, Santa Anita’s Grade I Ancient Title Stakes on Oct. 11.
The Factor went into the six-furlong race as the 2-5 favorite, but
Baffert’s gray colt would fade to fourth, 5 ¼ lengths behind the
victorious Amazombie at 3-1.
Owned by Fog City Stable and George Bolton, their $250,000 sales
purchase was pointed to the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile rather than
the Sprint on racing’s championship weekend at Churchill Downs. In the
Dirt Mile, The Factor wasn’t. After setting the early pace, he faltered
badly, finishing eighth.
The Factor, however, bounced back from two showings that deeply
disappointed Baffert with his scintillating 3 ½-length victory in the
Malibu. “When The Factor runs his race, it’s going to be tough to really
beat him,” Baffert said afterward. “The Factor we know showed up
today.” Said jockey Martin Garcia, “I don’t think there was a horse that
could beat him today.”
The Factor, whose name was taken from commentator Bill
O’Reilly’s widely-watched Fox News show, comes into the San Carlos with
earnings of $652,180 from 5 wins in 9 starts. With Garcia back aboard,
the 4-year-old son of War Front drew post position No. 3, just outside
of Amazombie. Both carry 123 pounds.
Mensa Heat, a California-bred son of Unusual Heat who was
claimed for $25,000 last April, came within three-quarters-of-a-length
of Amazombie when rallying for third in the Ancient Title. Trained by
Ted H. West for Peter Redekop, the 6-year-old gelding has won 5 of 9
starts including a pair of ungraded stakes since being claimed. Joe
Talamo will handle Mensa Heat.
Padua Stables’ Rothko, trained by Steve Asmussen, ran second to
The Factor in the Malibu, his first stakes endeavor. A 4-year-old
homebred son of Arch, Rothko had a three-game winning streak snapped in
the Malibu. He has posted a 3-2-0 record in six starts while earning
$158,080. Leading jockey Joel Rosario will ride for the first time on
Sway Away, second to The Factor in last February’s Grade II San
Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs, returns from eight months on the
sidelines with Rafael Bejarano to ride for trainer Jeff Bonde. The
4-year-old son of Afleet Alex shows a 2-2-0 record in seven starts with
earnings of $157,800 for a partnership headed by Batman Stable.
The complete field for the San Carlos Stakes, with jockeys and
weights in post position order: Canonize, Victor Espinoza, 118;
Amazombie, Mike Smith, 123; The Factor, Martin Garcia, 123; Mensa Heat,
Joseph Talamo, 118; Rothko, Joel Rosario, 118, and Sway Away, Rafael