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PIONEEROF THE NILE ROMPS IN GR. II SAN FELIPE, SANTA ANITA DERBY NEXT STOP ON APRIL 4
By KEN PETERS
AP Sports Writer
ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) Trainer Bob Baffert likes the way Pioneerof the Nile is growing up.
"He's becoming very professional. He was a May foal, so he's not even three yet. I like what I saw today," Baffert said after the smooth-striding colt romped to victory in Saturday's $200,000 San Felipe Stakes.
A prime contender for the Santa Anita Derby and possibly a Run for the Roses after that, Pioneerof the Nile had an easy trip under Garret Gomez in the San Felipe. Winning his third stakes in a row, the son of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Builder finished 1¼ lengths ahead of Feisty Suances.
Jeranimo was another length behind in the 1 1-16th mile event contested by a field of only six 3-year-olds.
Clearly the class of the field, Pioneerof the Nile went off at 1-9 and carried 122 pounds, at least six more than any of the others. The time was 1:43.35 over the artificial track.
"I was a little bit nervous because it looked too easy on paper and that's usually when things go wrong," said Baffert, who has saddled three Kentucky Derby winners. Nothing went wrong.
Pioneerof the Nile, just off the pace most of the way took command in the final turn and was never threatened en route to his fourth win in seven career starts.
Gomez didn't like the race's slow pace.
"When we turned down the backstretch, I moved him out, hoping that maybe the others would pick it up. But they didn't, so I just went on with it," Gomez said.
"(But) You can see that when I do get into him, he lengthens his stride. He can handle any scenario, but if we had a legitimate pace to sit behind, he's more effective."
Gomez won the Eclipse Award as the country's leading rider the past two years but has yet to win a Triple Crown race.
The San Felipe figures to be Pioneerof the Nile's last test for a while.
"It won't be like this in the Santa Anita Derby because he'll have (The) Pamplemousse," Baffert, referring to another top 3-year-old. "He (Pioneerof the Nile) likes to run at horses, and he'll get plenty to run at from here on out."
The winner paid $2.60, $2.10 and $2.10. Feisty Suances returned $5.80 and $3.80, and Jeranimo paid $4.
Pioneerof the Nile was coming off a very different trip in his last race, having to go wide and rally from back in the pack to beat Pappa Clem by a half-length. The time in that Feb. 7 race, Pioneerof the Nile's 3-year-old debut, was 1:41.90 over the same 1 1-16th mile distance at Santa Anita.
In the San Felipe, rider Joseph Talamo took New Bay to the front early and he stayed there until the final turn. Feisty Suances, with David Flores aboard moved ahead briefly, then Gomez begin urging Pioneerof the Nile into the lead. Jeranimo, ridden by Brice Blanc, was in good striking position all the way, but couldn't make a move on the first two down the stretch.
He's Really Big finished fourth, Shafted was fifth and New Bay faded to last. Kelly Leak was scratched.
Gomez won his second stakes of the afternoon, and 17th of the meeting, aboard favored Life is Sweet in the $300,000 Santa Margarita Handicap, a Grade I event for older fillies and mares.
Winning her third straight, Life is Sweet was timed in 1:48.71 for the 1 1-8th mile and finished 2½ lengths ahead of Santa Teresita, with Model third by another 1¾ lengths.
Life is Sweet, a 4-year-old daughter of Storm Cat, paid $4, $2.60 and $2.10. Santa Teresita paid $3.20 and $2.40 and the show playoff on Model was $2.20.
Gomez needs two more stakes wins to match the meet record shared by Laffit Pincay Jr. and Corey Nakatani.