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Going into Saturday's $150,000 Robert B. Lewis S. (G2) at Santa Anita, much of the attention was focused on well-regarded Kentucky Derby (G1) aspirants American Lion (Tiznow) and Tiz Chrome (Tiznow), but neither managed to live up to their advance billing. Instead, it was the Mike Machowsky-bred, co-owned and -trained CARACORTADO (Cat Dreams) who stepped up to the plate in his first serious class test. Sweeping past his better-fancied opponents, the California-bred gelding crossed the wire 1 3/4 lengths in front to remain unbeaten from five starts.
Tiz Chrome and American Lion, each making his two-turn debut, flashed early speed. As Tiz Chrome set the pace through splits of :23 1/5, :47 and 1:11 1/5, American Lion was pressing him every step of the way. Caracortado, who was coming off a victory in the December 26 California Breeders' Champion S. at this same track and 1 1/16-mile trip, was well placed in third by Paul Atkinson.
Turning for home, Tiz Chrome and American Lion continued their duel, but Caracortado was traveling best of all. The 9-2 fourth choice in the five-horse field overhauled the longtime leaders and drew away, ultimately stopping the teletimer in 1:41 3/5 on the Pro-Ride. Caracortado rewarded his loyalists with payouts of $11, $4.60 and $2.60.
"This horse is very mature -- he acts like an older horse," Atkinson said. "You can do anything with him. You can put him on the lead or he'll relax off the pace like he did today. Going down the backside, I was sitting behind the front runners and I really wanted to wait a little longer with him today, but those two horses (Tiz Chrome and American Lion) that were on the lead are good horses and I didn't want to let them get away from me. Leaving the quarter-pole, I asked my horse to go and he went. He finished up like a really nice horse."
"He had an advantage in recency (of races) and already going two turns successfully," Machowsky graciously noted. "Some of the others were coming off a longer layoff than he was.
"You know, he trains like that (as if he were a heavy favorite)," the trainer said. "Every time I ask him, he does what I want. I read what everybody writes about him, that he's kind of off-bred, not a blueblood, but he's honest. You can't knock that."
Machowsky was asked if the gelding were "flying under the radar" prior to this race because of his low-profile rider.
"I think that's part of it, but if he's under the radar now, he shouldn't be," Machowsky said. "Paul rode him flawless. He's given this horse flawless rides every time. It shows that jocks need stock under them, and trainers need stock.
"It doesn't matter if Bob Baffert, Charlie Whittingham or Rich Mandella has Caracortado, or Mike Machowsky. It's 80 percent the horse, maybe 10 percent the trainer and 10 percent the jock. We all need the horses. I've never hesitated to have Paul on this horse."
Dave in Dixie (Dixie Union) came charging from last to grab runner-up honors by a half-length from American Lion, returning $4.40 and $3.00 as the 3-1 third choice. American Lion, the 5-2 second choice, gave back $2.80. The $1 exacta was worth $19.80, and the $1 trifecta totaled $51.40 (4-1-3). Tiz Chrome checked in another 2 1/4 lengths adrift in fourth and was trailed by Tango Tango (Orientate).
Caracortado, who races for his trainer's Lo Hi Racing and Blahut Racing, has now amassed $199,200 in earnings. After breaking his maiden for a $40,000 tag at Fairplex on September 24, the chestnut defeated starter allowance rivals in a November 14 allowance at Hollywood Park. Interestingly, the runner-up that day, Cardiff Giant (Yankee Gentleman), has since gone on to finish second in the San Rafael S. (G3) and is entered in Monday's Southwest S. (G3) at Oaklawn Park.
Caracortado captured a state-bred allowance next time out at Hollywood on December 6, defeating the filly Evening Jewel (Northern Afleet), who came within a nose of shocking Blind Luck (Pollard's Vision) in Saturday's Las Virgenes S. (G1). Caracortado made his stakes, and two-turn, debut a winning one in the aforementioned California Breeders' Champion.
Out of the unraced Maria's Mon mare Mons Venus, Caracortado has an unnamed yearling half-sister by Southern Image.
"We'll look at the San Felipe ([G2] on March 13) next and see if Lookin at Lucky (Smart Strike) comes at us," Machowsky said. "I think my horse will love the dirt, but I'm not anxious to ship him right now."