In spite of a small field, what promises to be a dandy match-up between 2011 national male sprint champion Amazombie and two-time Grade 1 winner The Factor is set for the $200,000 San Carlos Handicap at Santa Anita Feb. 25.
There were six horses entered Feb. 22 for the seven-furlong San Carlos, which is scheduled as the seventh race on the Santa Anita program with a 3:36 p.m. PST post. But most of the attention will be centered on Amazombie and The Factor. Each will carry 123 pounds.
Both horses will be making their 2012 seasonal bows. Amazombie, trained and co-owned by Bill Spawr, last raced Nov. 5 when he captured the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs. The Factor, off since his victory in the Malibu Stakes on the opening day of the Santa Anita meet Dec. 26, has been working up a storm at Hollywood Park for trainer Bob Baffert.
Six-year-old Amazombie, winner of the Ancient Title Stakes at Santa Anita prior to Breeders' Cup, has been working sensationally as well. He posted back-to-back six-furlong bullet moves at Santa Anita earlier this month as he prepared for his first race of the season. Co-owned by Tom Sanford, the California-bred Northern Afleet gelding will be ridden from post 2 by Mike Smith, who said recently that the big bay has never been better.
"We ain't seen the best of him," said Smith, Amazombie's regular rider. "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."
Amazombie was to have run in the Palos Verdes Stakes Jan. 21, but Spawr opted to skip that due to an off-track. There's no rain in the forecast for Saturday.
"It's just a matter of getting the trip," Smith said. "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."
Amazombie, a 10-time winner with earnings of $1,525,708, is somewhat inexperienced at the seven-furlong distance. His lone try at the trip during a 23-race career came in last July's Triple Bend Handicap on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track. He finished third as the 3-2 favorite, 5 1/2 lengths behind the victorious Smiling Tiger.
The distance, then, would seem to favor The Factor, who is unbeaten in three races at seven-eighths, including wins in the Malibu, Del Mar's Pat O'Brien Stakes, and the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita last year. The Factor, a 4-year-old son of War Front who runs for George Bolton and Fog City Stable, also figures to be the controlling speed from post 3 with Martin Garcia aboard.
The Factor posted three consecutive bullet workouts at Hollywood this month, two of them at seven furlongs, before topping out with a half-mile breeze in :47 2/5 Feb. 21.
The gray/roan colt finished fourth, 5 1/4 lengths behind Amazombie in last year's Ancient Title, then was a disappointing eighth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile a month later. But he rebounded spectacularly in the Malibu, going gate to wire to win by 3 1/2 lengths in a time of 1:19.89. The Factor has won five of nine career starts while banking $652,180.
Stakes winner Mensa Heat, third in the Palos Verdes, returns in a difficult spot for trainer Ted H. West. The Cal-bred, a $25,000 claim by West for Peter Redekop last April, had probably his finest moment when finishing third to Amazombie in the Ancient Title, beaten by just three parts of a length. The 6-year-old Unusual Heat gelding has banked $436,758 in a 42-race career that includes nine victories.
"His last race was a pretty uphill battle," West said, noting that the winner Frumious ran away from the field. "It was so speed-favoring with the rain we got and we were dead last at the three-eighths pole. I thought he ran great. He passed as many horses as he could."
With The Factor present, West said, "They'll be going pretty hot early. But we'll see. Maybe he'll set it up for a good late run for us."
Also in the field is Padua Stables' Rothko, who finished second in the Malibu, which was his stakes debut for trainer Steve Asmussen. The 4-year-old son of Arch won three successive sprints prior to the Malibu -- at Saratoga, Monmouth Park, and Churchill Downs.
Jay Em Ess Stable's Canonize, trained by Ron Ellis, comes into the race off a sharp 2 1/2-length tally over conditioned allowance foes at seven furlongs Feb. 3. Sway Away, a Triple Crown contender last year for trainer Jeff Bonde, has been idle since June.