ANCIENT TITLE STAKES | PURSE: $250,000 | GRADE 1 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | 6 FURLONGS
Bob Baffert's three-year-old star The Factor was heavily favored to take Saturday's Grade 1, $250,000 Ancient Title at Santa Anita, but the charismatic gray never looked comfortable throughout the six-furlong journey and wilted to fourth after dueling into submission.
The one who stepped forward to fill the void, Tom Sanford and Bill Spawr's Amazombie, is no stranger to visiting the winner's circle after big sprint stakes in California. Already winner this season of the Sunshine Millions Sprint, Grade 2 Potrero Grande and the Tiznow, the five-year-old gelding notched his first top-level victory with a three-quarters of a length score in a time of 1:08 1/5 over a fast track. Amazombie paid $8.60, $3.60 and $6.60 at 3-1.
Jockey Martin Garcia had to urge The Factor on a bit leaving the gate to make the lead, where he was soon under constant pressure from Sirocco Strike. The fractions were rather heated -- :21 1/5 and :43 4/5 -- as the two were heads apart, while Square Eddie sat the garden trip in third and Amazombie tracked outside in fifth under Mike Smith.
Sirocco Strike called it a day turning for home, but The Factor also had nothing left as Amazombie made a sweeping five-wide move turning for home and assumed the lead inside the eighth pole remaining. He continued to hold steady all the way to the wire, as Irrefutable came on late to grab second by a nose over the inside rallying Mensa Heat. The Factor was beaten 5 1/4 lengths and beat only Sirroco Strike and Square Eddie to the finish.
When asked whether Amazombie will go on to the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint on November 5, trainer Bill Spawr was keeping all options open.
"We'll see how he comes out," he said. "We hope to, if he comes out fine. If he doesn't, he'll run in the Cal Cup [Sprint on October 29]. We have a month."
Baffert was also talking about pressing on to the Breeders' Cup with The Factor.
"The post position was a killer for him. They had him trapped," Baffert said. "The winner's a good horse -- it was a tough race. That happens. When it was 21 flat for the first quarter, I knew it was over. He had to rush him. We learned something from that race.
"As long as he comes out of it all right, this will set him up for the next one [the Breeders' Cup Sprint]. The next race will be the most important one. I didn't want to change his style today."
In addition to his three prior stakes wins this season, Amazombie was demoted from first to third in the Grade 3 Los Angeles. He also occupied the same slot in the Grade 1 Triple Bend and the Grade 1 Bing Crosby. His record now stands at 22-9-4-5, $715,708.
Amazombie is by Northern Afleet out of the winning In Excess mare Wilshe Amaze. He was bred in California by Gregg Anderson.