Hronis Racing and trainer John Sadler received a late Christmas present on December 28 when Gift Box strolled to a powerful victory in the $200,000 San Antonio Stakes (G2) on Santa Anita’s opening day program.
Last winter, Gift Box used a triumph in the San Antontio as a springboard to a Santa Anita Handicap (G1) win. He followed with a close second in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), but a struggling fourth in the June 15 Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs prompted Sadler to give Gift Box a six-month layoff.
The veteran of 18 starts showed no signs of rust while defending his San Antonio title as the 6-5 favorite.
“He trained with a lot of enthusiasm for this race… he’s been galloping out well in his works, so we thought we had him pretty ready,” Sadler said. “We’ve been ducking around the weather, but everybody’s in the same boat. We had some days maybe we couldn’t do quite as much as we wanted, so you’re a little nervous off a layoff, but he didn’t disappoint us.”
With regular rider Joel Rosario in the saddle, the 6-year-old son of Twirling Candy flashed speed from post 2 and quickly assumed command of the lead. With 24-1 longshot King Abner pressing the pace, Gift Box carved out solid fractions of :23.95, :47.33, and 1:10.99.
Turning for home, Rosario asked Gift Box for his best, and the game gray responded with a fresh burst of speed. Despite drifting in at the top of the lane, Gift Box put away King Abner with ease and widened his advantage to win by 3 3/4 lengths, stopping the clock for 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.73.
“He ran really well,” Rosario said. “He kind of broke a little slow, but then got it going a little bit. I got to the first turn and he was in front, and he was able to keep on going from that position and take it all the way.”
King Abner held for second by 3 3/4 lengths over late-running Midcourt, who broke slowly and failed to reproduce the front-running style that carried him to a decisive triumph in the November 23 Native Diver Handicap (G3) at Del Mar. Fight On, Gray Magician, Draft Pick, and Mugaritz completed the order of finish.
The San Antonio marked the third graded stakes triumph of Gift Box’s career and reaffirmed his position among the nation’s leading older males. The inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup on February 29 in Saudi Arabia has been mentioned as a possible target for Gift Box, though Sadler indicated a defense of his Santa Anita Handicap title might be a more likely target.
“I hope we can go for a Santa Anita Handicap double,” Sadler said. “We have a lot of choices with these handicap horses. We’ll see how he comes out of the race and maybe run him back east… We’re blessed to have two or three horses in this division, so we’re going to kind of mix and match… we’re going to be judicious.”
Kosta Hronis of Hronis Racing agreed with Sadler’s sentiment: “We are going to let (Gift Box) decide where he wants to go. John has done such a fantastic job in managing him, so we will let them decide and go to the next race whenever it is.
“We’re looking at the big picture and the Breeders’ Cup. We’ll let John manage him all year and space things out…We’ll take real good care of him, and obviously he can run really good off a layoff, so there’s no rush to keep him busy. We’ll just let him be the pro that he is.”
Bred by Machmer Hall, Carrie Brogden, and Craig Borgden, Gift Box boosted his career earnings to $1,127,060.