SA SPRINT CHAMPIONSHIP | PURSE: $250,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS AND UP | GRADE 1 | 6 FURLONGS
Donnie Creview and Charles V. Martin's Points Offthebench held off the fast-finishing Goldencents in Saturday's Grade 1, $250,500 Santa Anita Sprint Championship, registering his fourth consecutive victory with a half-length decision. Freshened off a game win in his stakes debut, the Grade 1 Bing Crosby at Del Mar on July 28, the fast-rising sprinter established himself as a top contender for the November 2 Breeders' Cup Sprint over the same oval.
Trained by Tim Yakteen, the four-year-old gelding was ridden by Mike Smith, who notched his fourth win of the afternoon including earlier stakes wins in the City of Hope and Swingtime.
Distinctiv Passion came out flying at the start, sprinting to a two-length lead through a sizzling quarter-mile in :21 ⅖, and continued to widen his advantage while ripping off a half-mile in an eye-popping :43 ⅗. Points Offthebench settled into third for the run down the backstretch, several lengths behind of the pacesetter, and commenced his rally leaving the far turn.
The early exploits took a toll on the front-runner, who started to shorten stride after straightening for home, and Points Offthebench was in position to pounce. He overhauled the pacesetter with a sixteenth of a mile remaining and quickly kicked clear, but Goldencents was charging late on the outside.
Points Offthebench had enough in reserve to save the win, completing six furlongs in 1:08 on the fast track, and paid $11.20 to win as the 9-2 third choice among seven rivals.
"He's very talented," Smith said. "Maldonado [on Distinctiv Passion] looked like he was getting away from us and I wanted to try and time it with this horse because if you hit the front too soon, he pulls up a little. Then I looked up and he was going a whole lot easier than he was supposed to be.
"He has some turn of foot, and I hit the front too soon, but he still held on. He pulled up nice and happy, well within himself. He's a very talented horse."
Yakteen echoed the same sentiments.
"The horse is quirky," the trainer said. "I don't want him to hit the lead too soon, because he'll wait on horses. I think Rafael [Bejarano, who rode Goldencents] is very well aware of that and he came wide with Goldencents, who was coming late, but we had inherited the lead."
The California-bred son of Benchmark has now earned $514,940 from a 8-6-1-1 lifetime mark. The Santa Anita Sprint Championship is a "Win & You're In" event for the Breeders' Cup Sprint and Yakteen is looking forward to the opportunity.
"Yes [we're going on to the Breeders' Cup Sprint]," Yakteen said. "This is my first Grade 1 win at Santa Anita and only the second in my career [first was the Bing Crosby]. They're not too hard to count.
"The horse is a push-button [type]. Horses like that, they make you look good. I would say, yeah, this is the biggest win of my career. This was a tough, tough race. This is special."
Goldencents, the 7-5 favorite, has now finished second in three consecutive sprints [Bing Crosby and August 25 Pat O'Brien], but his connections are planning on stretching him back out to two turns for the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
"We were very pleased with what [Goldencents] did today. It looks like, according to our owners, that we aren't going to stay sprinting," said Leandro Mora, assistant to Doug O'Neill. "We thought we could sprint but the talk is that we are going to keep him at a mile.
"It doesn't seem like he is a sprinter. We tried, but he is trying to tell us that he is not. He can run everywhere we put him, but he's not a sprinter. Even Rafael (Bejarano) said, 'please, let's go longer.' He's got a great kick. The Breeders' Cup Mile is next, definitely."
Goldencents wound up 2 ½ lengths better than Distinctiv Passion, who finished another 4 ½ lengths ahead of Gonna Fly Now in fourth. Roman Threat and Centralinteligence came next under the wire, and it was another 14 ½-length gap back to the trailer, 2012 champion sprinter Trinniberg, who came up completely flat in his first start at Santa Anita since capturing last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint. Declassify was scratched.
Points Offthebench opened his racing career in 2011, racing twice at Del Mar as a juvenile in California-bred maidens. He finished third in his premiere and broke through promptly next out, but was sidelined for six months. Points Offthebench picked up right where he left off by capturing his sophomore bow versus state-breds at Santa Anita in February 2012, only to be shelved for the remainder of the season.
In his comeback from a nearly year-long absence on February 2, Points Offthebench just missed by a half-length in an open-company allowance at Santa Anita. He moved forward off that tightener to win a similar event at the same venue April 6, followed up with a second-level allowance score at Hollywood, and prevailed by a head over Goldencents when making his first stakes attempt in the six-furlong Bing Crosby. The dark bay has never competed at distances past 6 1/2 furlongs.
Bred by Gary Rocks, Points Offthebench is a full brother to Grade 3 winner Bench Points. Both are out of the unraced Free House mare Mo Chuisle, herself a half-sister to Grade 2-placed Visible Slew. Points Offthebench's second dam is Grade 3 victress Visible Gold, and his fourth dam is Grade 1 star Alma North. He hails from the same female line as current sophomore Iotapa, the winner of this year's Railbird who has also placed in the Santa Anita Oaks, Hollywood Oaks and most recently the San Clemente on the Del Mar turf.