A little more distance seemed to be what Idol needed for his first victory in three graded-stakes tries. Or maybe it was his new jockey.
With Joel Rosario riding him for the first time, Idol (5-1) moved from seventh place nearing the second turn Saturday, gobbled up ground with big strides through the stretch and got the lead in the last two strides to win the $400,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1).
Express Train (5-1) was second followed another 1 1/2 lengths back by previously undefeated favorite Maxfield (1-1). Independence Hall (3-1) finished fourth followed in order by Tizamagician (20-1), Kiss Today Goodbye (19-1), Coastal Defense (16-1) and early pacesetter King Guillermo (45-1).
A 4-year-old Curlin colt trained by Richard Baltas, Idol had previously finished second in the San Antonio Stakes (G2) and third in the San Pasqual (G2), both during the current meet at Santa Anita. This time Idol came through with a winning time of 2:02.46 in the 1 1/4-mile race on a sunny 69-degree afternoon.
“I said we’ve got to run this horse in some stakes,” said Baltas, who had not had a male Grade 1 winner since Next Shares finished first in the 2018 Shadwell Turf Mile. “I knew he was a mile-and-a-quarter horse. He’s just big. He’s got a big, long stride. He can tend to get a little bit lazy, and I think Joel just fit him like a glove.”
Rosario has now won three straight Big 'Caps after scoring with Gift Box in 2019 and Combatant last year.
Most of the field was content to let King Guillermo and Tizamagician establish the early pace. They ran out in 22.82, 47.12 and 1:12.26 to the half-mile pole.
That was when Idol started to move, but so did Maxfield ahead of him. Both took wide trips through the second turn, but Florent Géroux tried to tuck Maxfield inside while Rosario, still three lengths off the lead in fifth, took Maxfield down the middle of the track.
Lengthening his stride with every jump, Idol moved past Express Train in the nick of time.
“Thank God we got there,” Baltas said.
Weights also might have made a difference at the end. Idol carried 119 pounds compared with 123 for Express Train and 124 for Maxfield. Only Coastal Defense and King Guillermo, both at 116, carried less than Idol.
“We’re getting weights, and we’re getting the distance,” Baltas said.
Owned by Calvin Nguyen, Idol is now the only horse eligible to compete for a $1 million bonus being offered for a sweep of the Big ’Cap, the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) in May at Santa Anita and the Pacific Classic (G1) in August at Del Mar.
“We might look at it,” Baltas said. “I don’t think we’re going to go to Dubai or anything like that.”