Anthony's Cross and jockey Joel Rosario, right, overpower Riveting… (Benoit Photo )
The usual unpredictability and disintegration of favorites in the Triple Crown season has begun.
Three leading candidates for fame and fortune May 7 at Churchill Downs went to three different posts in three different races Saturday, and only one emerged with reputation intact.
On another postcard day at Santa Anita, in front of 8,476, trainer Steve Asmussen's Tapizar took on a field of six also-mentions and went to the gate in the $250,000 Robert Lewis Stakes with a startling endorsement from the betting public. Tapizar went off at 1-5 odds and all the other horses were in double digits. It was the kind of race that prompts value-seeking gamblers to bet the house on the rest of the field to show and pray that the favorite finishes out of the money.
Tapizar did exactly that. He battled his jockey, Garrett Gomez, much of the way around and when it came time to race for home, he was all battled out.
Stunningly, Tapizar, who had won so impressively in the Jan. 15th Sham at Santa Anita that the Daily Racing Form had him in the No. 4 position, at 10-1 odds, in its Top 20 Derby Watch, finished fifth. The show bettors were delighted. Winner Anthony's Cross paid $18.60, $8.00 and $15.60; second-place Riveting Reason paid $7.60 and $15.20 and third-place Quail Hill returned $48.60.
The other promise-lost Derby prospect with Southern California ties, Peter Miller's Comma To The Top, passed up the Lewis race to go north and run in Saturday's El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate. Comma To The Top, an impressive winner on a rainy Dec. 18 at Hollywood Park, wandered into the lead at the top of the stretch and then lugged out, looked disinterested and coasted home fourth.
Comma To The Top had held the Racing Form's No. 5 spot at 12-1.
All was not lost for ratings experts.
Across the continent, in the $250,000 Sam Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, trainer Todd Pletcher's Brethren won impressively. Brethren was No. 7 on the Form's list, at 20-1. Pletcher won last year's Kentucky Derby with Super Saver, from the same WinStar Farm ownership.
Tapizar's rider, Gomez, said he had to fight much of the way around to calm his horse.
"He was super aggressive today," Gomez said. "He was just antsy. …He just kept pulling."
Joel Rosario, aboard winner Anthony's Cross, said, "I could see the favorite [Tapizar] was giving Gomez some trouble."
Trainer Eion Harty of Anthony's Cross, who once trained for the race's namesake, Bob Lewis — the late popular owner of Silver Charm, Charismatic and many others — raced his horse with blinkers for the first time.
"He's kind of a big Baby Huey," Harty said, "and it's taken him awhile to get focused."
Harty has had three starters in the Kentucky Derby, most notably Colonel John, and said that he would need to decide whether to run Anthony's Cross one more time before the April 9 Santa Anita Derby or just wait until then.
Santa Anita's other top race Saturday, the $250,000 Santa Maria Handicap for fillies and mares, 4-year-olds and up, also produced an upset. St. Trinians, the defending champion and especially notable for a narrow loss to Zenyatta last year at Hollywood Park, finished third to a lanky Zenyatta look-alike, Vision In Gold.
"I hate to throw the name around," said trainer Ron Ellis, "but she's Zenyatta-esque. …She is that tall."
Vision In Gold, owned by Mace and Samantha Siegel of Beverly Hills, is also unpredictable. She came from last to win her previous race, then went wire to wire Saturday.
Rosario, 23 and in his sixth season as a jockey, also rode Vision In Gold, making him a double stakes winner and getting him to within three victories of 1,000.