ECLIPSE SPRINT CHAMPION AMAZOMBIE LAUNCHES 2012 SEASON AGAINST SEVEN CHALLENGERS IN GRADE II PALOS VERDES STAKES ON SATURDAY

ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 18, 2012) – Five days after being named the 2011 Eclipse Award winner as North America’s premier sprinter, Amazombie goes back to work with the ultimate intent of becoming the only sprinter other than Housebuster (1990 & ’91) to gain such acclaim a second time.

Trainer and co-owner Bill Spawr’s 6-year-old gelding begins his 2012 quest on Saturday by facing seven ambitious opponents in Santa Anita’s 60th running of the Grade II, $150,000 Palos Verdes Stakes at six furlongs.

Amazombie, never off-the-board last year while posting a 5-1-3 record in 9 starts, has been freshened since scoring a gutty neck victory over Force Freeze at 7-1 odds in the Grade I, $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5.

Coming off some down time ought not to be a concern to Amazombie’s connections. Similar layoffs have been agreeable to the California-bred son of Northern Afleet. He has been victorious on each of the past four occasions when returning from a layoff.

“It’s hard to surpass the year he had (in 2011), but we feel he could be as good,” commented Spawr, who owns the winner of $1,525,708 in partnership with Tom Sanford.

Amazombie will start out by carrying co-high weight of 123 pounds and breaking from post position No. 2 in the Palos Verdes. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, his companion in 16 of his 23 lifetime starts, will be the familiar figure on Amazombie’s back.

The tentative outline for the champion sprinter this year could include Santa Anita’s Grade II Potrero Grande Stakes at 6 ½ furlongs on April 7, Hollywood Park’s Grade III Los Angeles Handicap in the spring, Del Mar’s Grade I Bing Crosby during the summer and Santa Anita’s Grade I Ancient Title prior to a defense of his Breeders’ Cup title at Santa Anita in November.

The late-developing bay gelding followed a somewhat similar course last year after scoring his first career stakes victory in Santa Anita’s $200,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint on Jan. 29. He subsequently gained his first graded stakes win in the Potrero Grande. The Los Angeles, Bing Crosby and Ancient Title were among competitions that followed.

It was that first graded stakes triumph in the Potrero Grande, however, that seemed to particularly inspire Spawr. “This horse is the real deal,” he exclaimed afterward. “If you don’t understand ‘perfect,’ just look at his body.”

Before his initial graded stakes victory, Amazombie had raced 16 times in his 23-race career that now shows an overall record of 10-4-5. His earnings of $152,578 in 2010 were virtually one-tenth of what he would earn during last year’s championship season.

The only rival in the Palos Verdes to ever have beaten him is defending champion Euroears, who reportedly will be making his final start prior to retirement at the age of 8 for James and Marilyn Helzer. The chestnut horse, trained by Bob Baffert, defeated third-place Amazombie by 1 ¾ lengths when taking last July’s Bing Crosby.

In fact, Euroears was sent off at shorter odds than Amazombie in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, 5-1, before being dusted by 18 lengths when checking in a badly-beaten ninth and last.

The 2011 Palos Verdes stands as Euroears’ only race at Santa Anita. He was a wire-to-wire winner by 2 ¼ lengths over Captain Cherokee with Smith in the saddle. Martin Garcia will guide the son of Llangfuhr in his farewell to racing under co-high weight of 123 pounds. Euroears, who drew the outside, has posted a record of 10-2-2 in 22 lifetime starts for earnings of $1,049,894.

Mensa Heat has been racing in sharp form since being claimed by trainer Ted West on behalf of Peter Redekop for $25,000 last April at Santa Anita. The 6-year-old gelded son of Unusual Heat has gone on to win 5 of 8 starts since being tagged. Mensa Heat won Hollywood Park’s On Trust Handicap at 7 ½ furlongs in his last start on Dec. 18. He ran a solid third behind Amazombie in the Ancient Title on Oct. 8 when finishing but three-quarters-of -a-length behind the Eclipse Award winner. Rafael Bejarano will ride the Cal-bred whose overall record is 9-7-6 in 41 starts for earnings of $418,758.

In addition to Amazombie and Euroears, M One Rifle is also a Grade I winner. The 6-year-old gelding concluded his 3-year-old season with a smashing 2 ½-length victory over Misremembered in Santa Anita’s Grade I Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26, 2009. Smith happened to be the rider that day. M One Rifle’s only victory since the Malibu, however, came in Hollywood Park’s ungraded Cool Frenchy Stakes last May 7. Trained by Bruce Headley for a partnership, the One Man Army offspring has won $515,002 from a record of 5-2-6 in 17 career starts. Joe Talamo has the mount in the Palos Verdes.

The complete field for the Palos Verdes Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: M One Rifle, Joseph Talamo, 118; Amazombie, Mike Smith, 123; Galientos, Corey Nakatani, 118; Mensa Heat, Rafael Bejarano, 118; Frumious, Antonio Castanon, 118; Canonize, Victor Espinoza, 118; Courtside, Joel Rosario, 118, and Euroears, Martin Garcia, 123.

It Tiz, a 5-year-old daughter of Tiznow, will be out to defend her title in the $75,000 Megahertz Stakes, a supporting feature Saturday for older fillies and mares at one mile on turf that attracted eight entrants.

Allen and Susan Branch’s It Tiz rallied to upset at 8-1 odds in last year’s Megahertz while defeating Lilly Fa Pootz by one-half length. Alonso Quinonez takes over the reins as trainer Mark Glatt’s bay mare attempts to put the skids on a five-race losing streak that dates back to the 2011 Megahertz. It Tiz is a winner of $260,183 from a 5-1-1 showing in 19 lifetime starts.

David Flores, who rode It Tiz last year, has taken the call on Wild Mia in this year’s renewal. Trained by Jerry Fanning for Rosemont Stud, Wild Mia is coming off a strong second at 28-1 odds in the Grade III Monrovia Stakes on Jan. 2. The 5-year-old gray mare owns a career record of 4-7-0 in 15 starts for earnings of $266,502.

The complete field for the Megahertz Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Equitana, Chantal Sutherland, 117; Pick and Pray, Edwin Maldonado, 117; It Tiz, Alonso Quinonez, 117; Burg Berg, Smith, 117; Celestial Kitten, Bejarano, 123; Imperialistic Diva, Rosario, 117; Vamo a Galupiar, Talamo, 117, and Wild Mia, David Flores, 123.

The Palos Verdes is scheduled as the eighth race on a nine-race program. The Megahertz is carded as the third. First post is at 12:30 p.m.

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