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It's win-win for trainer Bob Baffert in San Fernando Stakes at Santa Anita

Indian Firewater gets the nod over Tweebster in a photo finish in the $150,000 Grade II race, but either way it's a 1-2 finish for Baffert, who trains both horses.

January 15, 2011|By Grahame L. Jones
  • Indian Firewater and jockey Mike Smith, inside, hold off Tweebster and jockey Rafael Bejaranoto win the Grade II $150,000 San Fernando Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday afternoon.
Indian Firewater and jockey Mike Smith, inside, hold off Tweebster and… (Benoit Photo )

Indian Firewater and Tweebster, both trained by Bob Baffert, hit the wire at exactly the same moment in the Grade II $150,000 San Fernando Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday afternoon.

Or so it seemed. A photo was called for and the photo showed two noses separated by less than the width of a winning ticket.

Indian Firewater was given the call, though winning jockey Mike Smith could not say who won.

"I wasn't sure," Smith said, "but I knew it was Bob's other horse [giving chase], so he'd be happy either way."

Baffert was not at the track, having taken a few days off to celebrate his 58th birthday, and assistant Jim Barnes was also in the dark until the winning number went up.

"It was as close to a dead heat as you could get," Barnes said. "But we'll take it β€” one-two."

For all the drama of the San Fernando, and despite California Nectar's victory in the Grade II $150,000 Santa Ynez Stakes, it was Tapizar who stole the show Saturday and thrust himself into the Triple Crown picture.

A small but competitive field of five was sent to the post in the $100,000 Sham Stakes, and it was Tapizar who crossed the line first in the Grade III race, covering the 1 1/16 miles on a fast, speed-favoring track in 1:40.38 under jockey Garrett Gomez.

The 3-year-old bay colt, by Tapit out of Winning Call, was sent out as the favorite and finished 4ΒΌ lengths in front of Clubhouse Ride under jockey Patrick Valenzuela.

Anthony's Cross, with Joel Rosario aboard, was third, another five lengths back.

Trainer Steve Asmussen said Saturday's victory would likely put the Kentucky-bred Tapizar on course for a return to Churchill Downs β€” where he already has won a race β€” and the 137th Kentucky Derby on May 7.

"This will start that discussion," Asmussen said. "We'll see what this takes out of him, how comfortable we are with him when he goes back to the track, and how he acts.

"The horse gives us a lot of confidence in the fact that he can do more. He's talented, but there's a lot of kid to him, a lot of playfulness in him."

The April 9 Santa Anita Derby could also be in Tapizar's future, but Asmussen would not commit this early.

"With respect to him, we're going to see how he goes back to the track, but he's a racehorse, and we'll run him," he said.

Tapizar, making his first start at Santa Anita, had the lead for much of the race and Gomez said the colt still had run left in him at the wire.

"He was a little bit fresher than I had anticipated him to be," the rider said. "He went ahead and settled down as soon as I let him make the lead. He put his ears up and kind of cruised around there. I felt like I was loaded. . . . Hopefully he has many more gears. . . . He's a beautiful mover."

Tapizar won with apparent ease, but not in the opinion of Las Vegas-based owner Ron Winchell of Winchell Thoroughbreds.

"It didn't look easy to me in the beginning," he said. "He's got so much tactical speed that we knew he'd be forwardly placed. When he put up the .45 fraction [45.25 seconds for the first half-mile], I was a little concerned with going a mile and a sixteenth. Sometimes that can be real difficult.

"He'll stay out here and run the prep races here and hopefully be on the [Kentucky] Derby trail."

In the Santa Ynez, for 3-year-old fillies, Valenzuela, aboard California Nectar, held off a furious, last-to-almost-first charge by Zazu, ridden by Rosario, to win the seven-furlong race by a neck in 1:21.34 for trainer Doug O'Neill.

Plum Pretty, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, was third.

"She was flying," Valenzuela said. When that filly [Zazu] came to her, my filly picked up her head and tried even harder. I don't think she was ever going to get by us."

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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