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Comma to the Top wires off-the-turf Daytona

Comma to the Top splashed his way to millionaire status (Benoit Photos)
The complexion of Saturday's $100,000 Daytona Stakes changed dramatically when the sprint was rained off the Santa Anita turf, and Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum and Kevin Tsujihara's Comma to the Top took full advantage to wire the scratch-reduced field.

With a few potential pace rivals, led by 7-2 morning-line favorite Great Mills, opting to stay in the barn, Comma to the Top was left as the premier speed, and the Peter Miller trainee made the most of it to push his earnings past the $1 million mark. Originally carded as a Grade 3, the Daytona was automatically downgraded because of the surface switch, pending review by the American Graded Stakes Committee.

Jockey Edwin Maldonado picked up the mount after Corey Nakatani was involved in a spill in the 4TH race. Driven right to the front, Comma to the Top splashed through an opening quarter in :21 3/5 on the wet-fast, sealed track. Ain't No Other attempted to match strides briefly, but ended up chasing the front runner. Wilkinson, returning from a seven-month layoff, bided his time several lengths back, roughly in tandem with Clubhouse Ride. Capital Account, the slight 8-5 favorite over Comma to the Top, brought up the rear.

As Comma to the Top reached the half-mile mark in :44, Ain't No Other was again trying his best to challenge, but he could not keep up. Comma to the Top began to open up down the stretch, despite drifting out on his left lead. Although the 14-1 Clubhouse Ride rallied along the inside, and gradually overtook Ain't No Other, the longtime leader was still safely 1 3/4 lengths clear at the wire.

Comma to the Top, who clocked six furlongs in 1:08 1/5, completed the 6 1/2-furlong dash in 1:14 2/5. The 8-5 second choice returned $5.20, $3.60 and $2.80.

"With the speed scratching, we felt we would go for the lead, and it worked out good," Maldonado said. "I felt I had a ton of horse under me at the end. The horse drifted out late, but the middle of the track was the hardest part of the track. I am most appreciative of (trainer) Peter Miller for giving me the opportunity."

"It looked like all the winners were coming in the middle of the track," Miller noted, "so I told him (Maldonaro) to try and keep the horse in the center part of the track, and he did that. This has been an unbelievable year, but there's no rest for the weary. We've just got to try and keep on winning, you know."

Clubhouse Ride edged Ain't No Other by a head for runner-up honors. Capital Account closed mildly on the outside and got up for fourth, relegating Wilkinson to last in the quintet.

"The pace was fast, they just never slowed down in front of us," jockey David Flores said of his trip aboard Capital Account.

In addition to Great Mills, the other withdrawals were Red Sun, Tale of a Champion, Starspangled Heat, Circa'sgoldengear, Guest Star and Byrama, who was an early scratch.

With this sixth career stakes score to his credit, Comma to the Top now boasts $1,027,696 in earnings from his 25-11-2-1 line. The gelding earned three stakes victories as a juvenile in 2010 -- the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity, Grade 3 Generous and the Real Quiet.

A gallant runner-up in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in 2011, Comma to the Top took a swing at the Kentucky Derby, but trailed home last and exited the race with an ankle injury that required surgery. He returned to action in the fall of 2011, but won only one of three starts.

Sidelined until this summer, Comma to the Top made a winning four-year-old debut in a turf sprint allowance at Golden Gate Fields, and followed up with a third in the Robert K. Kerlan Memorial at Hollywood Park. He has since added stakes wins in the Pirate's Bounty over Del Mar's Polytrack, and the Big Bear Handicap at Santa Anita, along with fourths in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby, Grade 3 Eddie D. and the Grade 3 Vernon O. Underwood last out on December 2.

"Words can't describe a horse like this," Miller said. "He's gone through so much, but he wants to beat you. He's just an iron horse. He's a $22,000 gelding and you wish you had a barnful of them. He makes training easy. He's a pleasure to work around. He tries every time. He just wants to please you. The owners deserve this. They're great guys and I'm really happy for them.

"We'll probably keep him sprinting," the trainer added of upcoming targets. "I think he just might be a little better sprinting right now than he is going long, and probably keep him on the main track."

Comma to the Top was bred by Richard Thompson and Linda Thompson in Florida, and first sold for just $5,000 as an OBS October weanling. At the same venue as a two-year-old in training in April 2010, the bay was purchased by Miller for $22,000.

The son of Bwana Charlie was produced by the Stormy Atlantic mare Maggie's Storm, who is herself a half-sister to stakes winner Yes He's a Pistol. Comma to the Top's second dam is Grade 3 victress Maggies Pistol.

Teddy's Promise ran out a dominating winner in her prep for the Santa Monica (Benoit Photos)
Earlier at Santa Anita, Ted and Judy Nichols' homebred Teddy's Promise came back from a 56-day break to win Saturday's $92,200 Kalookan Queen Handicap as the 7-5 favorite. The four-year-old filly stalked alongside the pacesetter before taking over the lead at the half-mile mark and never looked back, pulling away for a 5 1/4-length victory.

Trained by Ron Ellis, the dark bay filly completed 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14 3/5 over the wet-fast main track with Victor Espinoza. Coming off an eighth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, the daughter of Salt Lake captured her third stakes win.

"She likes this race track and she's kind of bred for the mud, too," Ellis said. "She's been training really well. She's come back and done well since the Breeders' Cup. I felt pretty good about her today. I expected her to be close up. She was going to be first or second no matter what in there. I really liked the way she sat off another horse. It was very encouraging. She's going to come back in the (Grade 2) Santa Monica (at seven furlongs on January 26)."

Teddy's Promise won the Grade 1 La Brea at Santa Anita 12 months ago. The California-bred improved her career line to 20-7-2-1, $484,981.

In the next race at Santa Anita, Majestic Racing Stable and Rap Racing's Avare took advantage of a scratch-depleted field in the $77,500, off-the-turf Eddie Logan Stakes to romp by 4 1/4 lengths. The two-year-old went gate-to-wire in 1:36 1/5 in the one-mile contest with Rafael Bejarano to post his first stakes victory. The Doug O'Neill trainee was exiting a disappointing last-place finish in the November 10 Real Quiet Stakes at Hollywood Park after breaking his maiden over the Santa Anita turf in October.

"He's not a real big colt, but he's always shown a lot of talent and had everything go his way today," O'Neill said. "Rafael (Bejarano) has worked him, they really seem to get along and it showed today. He's got the pedigree, he's sound, and he's been showing us a lot in the mornings. The late two-year-old, early three-year-old picture changes so much so we're keeping all our options open. It's still just a five horse field victory but this game is part dreaming, so we'll dream a little bit."

Saturday's stakes win boosted the Johannesburg colt's bankroll to $78,900, and he now sports a 4-2-0-0 short career mark.

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