AMAZOMBIE SCORES FIRST GRADED STAKES VICTORY IN GRADE II POTRERO GRANDE AFTER OUTDUELING CAPTAIN CHEROKEE BY HEAD

ARCADIA, Calif. (April 3, 2011) – In a field adorned by several classy comebackers, Sunday’s Grade II, $150,000 Potrero Grande Stakes came down to a battle between the event’s two sharpest runners as Amazombie outdueled Captain Cherokee by a desperate head while covering 6 ½ furlongs in 1:14.26.

After returnee M One Rifle, winner of the Grade I Malibu Stakes in 2009, took the bunched first flight through some brisk fractions moving toward the far turn, Amazombie and Captain Cherokee began their moves in tandem on the far outside.

Amazombie, with jockey Mike Smith working feverishly, and Captain Cherokee, just inside under a flailing Joe Talamo, battled side-by-side through the stretch before Amazombie inched clear in the closing stages.

It was 2 ¼ lengths back to Ventana, ridden by Martin Garcia, in third. M One Rifle dropped back to fourth. Comebacker Crown of Thorns, the 9-5 favorite, never posed a serious challenge. Nor did Atta Boy Roy, who had faltered in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint at 6-1 in his last start on Nov. 6. He finished last.

Sent off as the second choice at 7-2, Amazombie paid $9.20, $4.40 and $3.20. Captain Cherokee, the 9-2 third choice, paid $5.20 and $4. The show price on Ventana was $4.40.

It was the first graded stakes victory for the 5-year-old California-bred son of Northern Afleet who is trained and co-owned by Bill Spawr. He had been first or a close second in his four previous starts that included a victory in the $200,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint.

“This horse is the real deal,” Spawr said in the winner’s circle. “Nobody believes in him. He’s better on dirt. He’s a dirt horse. He came into this just perfect. If you don’t understand perfect, just look at his body.

“Anyway, we’re excited. It didn’t happen like we wanted out of the gate, but then he (Smith) moved him out and he got there. It was a good ride. We’ll keep him on dirt.”

Smith explained the pre-race strategy. “Bill and I discussed that we were going to follow the No. 1 horse (Atta Boy Roy),” he said. “But he didn’t get away so well. When he didn’t get away, I just worked on getting out in the clear. So I just kept on needling my way out, and I finally got in the clear.

“I was able to sit there and make a run with (Steve) Asmussen’s horse (Captain Cherokee). We both fought it out to the end. This is one of the coolest little horses I’ve been around. He’s just so full of class, and he knows what he’s out there for.”

With the winning purse of $90,000, Amazombie’s earnings increased to $418,708 for Spawr and partner Tom Sanford. His record became 7-4-2 in 17 career starts.

Following dark days Monday through Wednesday, racing will resume on Thursday at Santa Anita with an eight-race program beginning at 1 p.m. Entries will be taken on Wednesday for Saturday’s Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby.

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