If Saturday’s $201,053 Triple Bend (G2) were held at the same 6 1/2-furlong distance as the April 20 Kona Gold (G2), Cistron would have been home free again at Santa Anita. But the Triple Bend was another half-furlong – a bridge too far after his blistering pace – and that gave Air Strike just enough time to spring the 12-1 upset.
Unlike Cistron, who’s been competing over shorter in his past eight starts, Air Strike was cutting back in trip for trainer Phil D’Amato. The Street Sense colt was useful around two turns, finishing second in the Zia Park Derby, sixth behind Gift Box and Battle of Midway in the San Antonio (G2), and most recently fourth in the April 28 Steve Sexton Mile (G3) at Lone Star Park. But the decision to revert to one turn proved an inspired one, as Air Strike deployed a last-to-first maneuver.
Cistron, dispatched at 5-1, sped through splits of :22.10 and :44.53 to see off pace rival The Hardest Way. All Out Blitz tried to chase out wide, but he too succumbed to the punishing tempo. The 9-5 favorite, American Anthem, could never work his way into serious contention. His Bob Baffert stablemate, the 4-1 Nero, gained a bit more traction without threatening the pacesetter.
Thus Cistron appeared to be sitting pretty in midstretch, opening up a three-length margin while reaching six furlongs in 1:09.61. Yet his deceleration continued, and became even more noticeable, in the final furlong.
By that point, Air Strike was just beginning to take off for Norberto Arroyo Jr. Heading Cistron on the wire, he completed seven furlongs in 1:23.12 to grasp his first stakes laurel.
Third-placer Nero held American Anthem by a half-length. Next came Majestic Eagle, All Out Blitz, Law Abidin Citizen, and The Hardest Way.
“I told Norberto to just let them set the table for you,” D’Amato said, “and just come with that big wide run and just keep on ‘em. He followed instructions to a tee with a great ride and got the job done.
“We were going to use (Flavien) Prat, but he had the call on Kanthaka (who ended up in the Daytona (G3) instead) and Joe (Talamo) had the call for Ron Ellis (on The Hardest Way), so we were left looking for a jock.
“Norberto has been breezing a lot of horses for me and I thought he was the kind of rider who could fit this horse. You have to stay on this horse the whole time. With a quarter of mile to go, you have to ride him like you are riding a bicycle. Norberto never stopped. He kept making up ground and we got up at the end.”
“I give all the credit to God, and Phil who brought the horse ready,” said Arroyo, who won three races on the card. “I just took him out, he did it all himself. To be honest, it’s not me, it’s God. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the past and I’m trying to do things the right way now. When you do the right things, good things happen.”
Bred and initially raced by Gary and Mary West, who are contesting homebred Maximum Security’s Kentucky Derby (G1) disqualification, Air Strike was privately purchased by Slam Dunk Racing and transferred to the West Coast. He promptly broke his maiden for D’Amato at Del Mar last summer, and picked up additional partners in Madaket Stables and Michael Nentwig. Following an entry-level allowance score at Santa Anita, Air Strike graduated to stakes company. The lightly raced four-year-old has upside with a mark of 10-3-2-1, $279,310.
Air Strike’s dam, the Tapit mare Omnitap, is herself a daughter of multiple stakes-winning and Grade 2-placed sprinter Classic Oympio. That Olympio mare transmitted her speed to two stakes-winning daughters, Classify and Simplify (a three-quarter sister to Omnitap). Perhaps that’s where Air Strike inherits his one-turn proficiency.
“He’s got the pedigree, the looks, and he just looks like a great horse,” D’Amato said. “He just has to put it all together and Norberto brought him a long way today. Hopefully we will keep going forward.”
Turf sprinters were in action earlier in the $100,702 Daytona (G3), where 4-5 favorite Eddie Haskell capitalized on its shortening to a five-furlong dash. Trained by Mark Glatt and well handled by Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux, the Square Eddie gelding eased back to stalk, then pounced on pacesetter What’sontheagenda to notch his first stakes victory. Kanthaka, who flashed speed in the opening strides of his turf debut, finished third.
Eddie Haskell had set the course record two starts back, edging champion Stormy Liberal in a February 22 allowance in :55.06, and clocked :55.49 on Saturday’s firm turf. Last out on March 31, the California-bred settled for second to Pee Wee Reese in the restricted Sensational Star at about 6 1/2 furlongs. Eddie Haskell has placed three other times over that downhill course, notably in the 2017 Siren Lure (to Stormy Liberal) and the January 27 Clocker’s Corner (to Conquest Tsunami and Cistron). He entered the Daytona with a 6-for-9 mark going five panels, including thirds in last year’s California Flag here and the Albany at Golden Gate Fields.
“He’s a top horse going five-eighths,” Glatt said. “He won throttled down today, man. That was impressive. I wasn’t worried about where he was early. I thought I was running the best horse. He’s learned to come from a little bit off the pace and I think it’s even made him a little better horse going five furlongs. It was cool.
“We just hope we can keep him healthy and take it race by race and if he gets us to the Breeders’ Cup in the end of the year I’m sure we will take a shot.”
Owners Philip J. Wood and Jim Hailey claimed Eddie Haskell from breeder Reddam Racing for $50,000 out of a fourth down the hill on April 26, 2018 – his first start off a year-long layoff. The six-year-old’s scorecard now stands at 20-8-2-5, $453,107.
“Mark has done a great job with this horse,” Hailey said. “When Mark called me and said he wanted to claim this horse, when he had a (12-month) layoff, I thought he was absolutely crazy.
“It was a lot of money, but we took his recommendation and it’s worked out great. We couldn’t be happier.”
Out of the winning Boston Harbor mare Teresa Ann, Eddie Haskell is a half-brother to Grade 3-placed stakes scorer Waveline, who has produced Australian stakes-placed Waimea Bay. His full brother, stakes-placed Eddie’s First, set a Santa Anita course record sprinting about 6 1/2 on the downhill turf. Their third dam is champion Waya.
The $200,702 Charles Whittingham (G2) also went to a Cal-bred reaching a new career high, Marckie’s Water. Campaigned by Little Red Feather Racing and Norman Tavares, the Richard Baltas trainee rallied from the back of the pack to earn a graded stakes breakthrough.
Marckie’s Water, whose prior stakes victory came in the restricted Snow Chief during his sophomore season in 2017, was knocking on the door. Fourth in last fall’s Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) and third in the March 29 San Luis Rey (G2), the son of Tribal Rule tuned up with a stakes-quality allowance win April 28.
With Tiago Pereira back aboard, the 2-1 Marckie’s Water bided his time as 21-1 longshot Morse Code carved out fractions of :24.67, :48.83, and 1:13.36 under constant pressure from Tizzarunner. When the leader finally put his pace nemesis away in midstretch, the field was fanning out in challenging array. The 7-2 United, who recovered from clipping heels early on crossing the dirt, loomed on the outside. Prime Attraction, the 8-5 favorite who was ridden more patiently than expected, tried to sneak through on the rail, and veteran Ashleyluvssugar, a two-time Whittingham winner (2015 and 2017), was also in the hunt.
Once Marckie’s Water struck top gear, however, the race was over. The chestnut got up by three-quarters of a length in a final time of 2:00.95 for 1 1/4 grassy miles. United took runner-up honors from Ashleyluvssugar, with Prime Attraction another head away in fourth, just nipping Morse Code and Ya Gotta Wanna. Tizzarunner retreated to last.
“I grew up idolizing Charlie Whittingham,” said Billy Kosh of Little Red Feather Racing, “and to win a graded stake in his name with a Cal-bred is amazing. We thought when they turned for home that he was going to run last, he wasn’t firing, then all of a sudden he found daylight and he just went. That was an extremely impressive performance. We’ve told Tiago this horse likes to make a last run and he likes to be outside of horses. It was pretty amazing down the lane.”
Marckie’s Water has bankrolled $466,683 from an 18-6-0-2 line. Bred by Frank Mermenstein and Tom McCrocklin in the Golden State, the five-year-old was produced by the winning Stravinsky mare Russian River. If Marckie’s Water appears to be outstaying his immediate pedigree, his female line traces to the influential Soaring, through her daughter Miss Swapsco, ancestress of Devil’s Bag, Saint Ballado, Glorious Song, and Singspiel.