Saturday was “Justify Day,” so to speak, at Santa Anita, with the Triple Crown star parading between races and Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith signing the giveaway posters for a throng of fans. The theme carried over into the featured $251,035 San Carlos (G2), where Justify’s stablemate and 4-5 favorite American Anthem prevailed for the same connections – but barely.
That’s because the 42-1 St. Joe Bay tried with all his might to thwart the story line. First off the claim for John Sadler, he summoned his back class as the 2017 Palos Verdes (G2) winner, and came close to springing the upset.
St. Joe Bay dashed to the front, shadowed by American Anthem through splits of :22.21 and :44.46 on the fast track. When Smith gave American Anthem his cue, the Bob Baffert pupil asserted himself and overtook St. Joe Bay by a half-length in midstretch. But the longshot wouldn’t defer that easily. Staying on stubbornly along the inside, St. Joe Bay began to claw back the yards from American Anthem and drew on virtually level terms approaching the wire.
The photo-finish revealed that American Anthem had his head in front in a final time of 1:22.12 for seven furlongs. Surprisingly, he was not covered in the Pick 6. Santa Anita will have a carryover of $821,858 going into Sunday’s closing day, with a mandatory payout in store.
The brave St. Joe Bay had 1 3/4 lengths to spare over Horse Greedy, who rallied after a slow start to finish a clear third by 4 1/4 lengths. El Huerfano nipped Baffert’s other runner, Dabster, for fourth. Stone Hands, Touching Rainbows, and Top of the Game completed the order of finish.
Campaigned by breeder WinStar Farm in partnership with Head of Plains Partners, China Horse Club, and SF Racing, American Anthem sports a mark of 10-5-1-2, $673,945. The son of Bodemeister tried the 2017 Kentucky Derby (G1) trail, but after a head loss in the Sham (G3), his unplaced efforts in the Rebel (G2) and Santa Anita Derby (G1) revealed distance limitations. American Anthem shortened up to capture the Laz Barrera (G3) and Woody Stephens (G2) and placed third in both the H. Allen Jerkens (the former King’s Bishop) (G1) and Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1). Off until June 1, he made a winning four-year-old debut in a Churchill Downs allowance that set him up for this spot.
The Kentucky-bred was initially sold to E. J. Stable for $180,000 as a yearling at Keeneland September. WinStar teamed up with China Horse Club to buy their homebred for $435,000 as an OBS March two-year-old, where he was consigned by Hoppel’s Horse and Cattle Co., agent.
American Anthem is out of the winning A.P. Indy mare Indy’s Windy, a half-sister to champion Banshee Breeze (by Unbridled). Thus it made sense to go back to the Unbridled sire line, via the Empire Maker stallion Bodemeister.
Quotes from Santa Anita
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert on American Anthem: “He’s ran great off a layoff. I took him to Kentucky, ran him there and he did really well off the layoff. But today, he looked a little heavy, I don’t know why. He’s put on a few pounds since the last race. I think he’s just getting better with age. He’s a big strong horse, he eats really well, and his stall is next to Justify’s so maybe that has something to do with it.
“That other horse (St. Joe Bay) was putting up a big fight and it looked like he had him put away but Anthem got him.
“I was talking to Mike (Smith) and said ‘we got to get another win’ because it’s pretty tough after winning a Triple Crown but still, life goes on and you’ve got to keep winning. To get another stakes win like this is what we need to keep our head in the game. We’ve just started a whole new chapter and need to stay in the groove. Big Money Mike, if he’s got the horse under him, he’s getting the job done.”
Hall of Famer Mike Smith: “I needed that one, it’s like a monkey off my back. Every time you come off of something big, like with Justify, it seems like it takes a little while to win something else that’s big.
“It’s so great to see Bode Miller out here with Bob, after what he’s gone through with his daughter (the tragic death of Miller’s 19-month-old baby girl by drowning). Hopefully we brought him just a little bit of happiness.
“I caught such a good jump that I just thought I needed to stay out of his way. I thought all I could do was mess it up at that point. St. Joe Bay was running along so easy that I thought I should keep a little pressure on him, and I’m glad I did because I needed every bit of it to get by him.”
Jockey Tyler Baze on near-misser St. Joe Bay: “He put a head in front two or three times. He tried so hard. It’s not very often you get one that tries that hard. I’m just glad I got a chance to ride him.”