A winner of only one race approaching the halfway point of Santa Anita's winter-spring meet, trainer Julio Canani picked the right race to end his cold streak.
Nazirali, an Irish-bred gelding who had never before run in a graded stakes, outfinished 5-1 second choice Continental Red by a neck to win the $200,000 San Luis Obispo Handicap on Saturday at Santa Anita.
Owned by Michael House and ridden by Brice Blanc, Nazirali, the 7-1 third choice in the field of seven in the Grade II, won for the third time in six starts. He is now two of three in this country since being purchased privately. He completed the 11/2 miles on turf in 2:26.
Denon, the 3-5 favorite, finished fifth, but he had a legitimate excuse. Saving ground along the rail throughout under jockey Chris McCarron, the 2001 Hollywood Derby winner was trapped behind a stopping Apache Wings, who had set the pace for the first eight furlongs.
"I was a little bit afraid in the post parade because he was getting a little bit wound up," Blanc said. "But, as soon as we broke out of the gate, he relaxed nicely and we had a little bit of pace in the race today.
"Julio's done a great job of getting this horse to relax and it worked out well today. I think we've got a good horse for the [$400,000] San Juan Capistrano [on April 21] now because this horse can gallop all day."
For Continental Red, it was his second tough loss in a stakes at the meet. On Jan. 21, he lost the San Marcos by a nose to Irish Prize. The California-bred has run eight times on the Santa Anita turf course without a victory, but he has four seconds and a third and has earned nearly $107,000 for owner Sharon Fitzpatrick.
Bonapartiste, a 19-1 outsider, was third.
The margin of victory was closer, but the outcome of the $200,000 Fountain Of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park was the same as the Holy Bull about a month earlier.
Booklet, who prevailed by three-quarters of a length over Harlan's Holiday on Jan. 19, held on to win by a nose over that colt in the final major prep for next month's Florida Derby.
Owned by John Oxley and trained by John Ward, who won the Florida and Kentucky Derbys last year with Monarchos, Booklet, the 5-1 third choice, took the lead immediately under jockey Jorge Chavez and gamely held on in the final yards. He completed the 11/16 miles in 1:442/5.
Harlan's Holiday, the 2-1 favorite, finished five lengths clear of Blue Burner, then came Political Attack, Speed Hunter, Stephentown, the 5-2 second choice, Grey Beard and Maybry's Boy.
Earlier in the day at Gulfstream, Cetewayo, an 18-1 outsider, rolled to a 31/4-length victory over 5-2 favorite Band Is Passing and 10 others in the $200,00 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap.
An 8-year-old His Majesty horse owned by J.A. Chandler and trained by Michael Dickinson, Cetewayo ran the 13/8 miles on turf in 2:172/5 under jockey Cornelio Velasquez.
Xtra Heat, the 7-10 favorite, won for the 19th time in 24 starts, capturing the $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel.
Ridden by Harry Vega for owners Kenneth Taylor and Harry Deitchman and trainer John Salzman, the 4-year-old filly and 128-pound highweight earned her fifth win in six tries at Laurel, scoring by nearly three lengths over defending Fritchie champ Prized Stamp. Xtra Heat completed the seven furlongs in 1:223/5.
"She is a runner,'' Salzman said. "I was worried about the weight. The only thing they didn't put on her is that awning over there."
Lady George, the 6-5 favorite, earned her third stakes victory with a half-length victory over 6-1 longshot Icantgoforthat in the $107,400 Boo La Boo Stakes at Santa Anita.
Owned by Gordon Severson and trained by Tony Locke, the 3-year-old Lake George filly, who was purchased for $2,500 as a yearling, won for the fourth time in 11 starts. She has earned $303,416.
Ridden by Jose Silva, Lady George completed the six furlongs in 1:101/5. Super High, the 7-2 second choice, was third, two lengths behind the pacesetting Icantgoforthat.
Leaping Plum, the 11-year-old who was trying to win the Grasmick Handicap at Fonner Park for an eighth consecutive year, had to settle for third at the Grand Island, Neb., track.
R C Mr Hay Boy, a 28-1 longshot, won the race, completing the four furlongs in 454/5. April Sunshine was second.