Saturday's $250,000 Robert B. Lewis S. (G2) at Santa Anita scrambled the three-year-old picture in Southern California. As 1-5 favorite Tapizar (Tapit) failed to follow up on his impressive Sham S. (G3) victory, and folded down the stretch, A D K Racing's ANTHONY'S CROSS (Indian Charlie) and Riveting Reason (Fusaichi Pegasus) pulled away to fight out the finish. Knuckling down gamely along the inside, the 8-1 Anthony's Cross prevailed in a photo-finish to improve his standing among Kentucky Derby (G1) aspirants.
The Eoin Harty-trained Anthony's Cross was facing Tapizar for the third time, and he has now won two of their meetings. When Anthony's Cross broke his maiden at Churchill Downs on November 4, Tapizar was beaten a total of five lengths in fourth. The tables were turned when they squared off again in the January 15 Sham at Santa Anita, where Tapizar romped by 4 1/4 lengths, and Anthony's Cross checked in a distant third.
Harty decided to equip his colt with blinkers in hopes of an improved performance on Saturday, but he had two possible races in mind. He cross-entered Anthony's Cross to the Lewis and to the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby (G3) at Golden Gate Fields on the same day. Harty concluded that the Lewis was the relatively easier spot, and the decision paid off, to the tune of $150,000 graded stakes earnings.
"When the entries came out we went through both races, we decided to stay here and take a shot on the dirt and if we get beat, we get beat," Harty said afterward. "He was training well, he's super-fit and I thought with the addition of blinkers . . . and of course Joel Rosario, it never hurts to have him."
The Lewis began in much the same way as the Sham, with Tapizar pulling his way to the early lead. This time, however, Tapizar was extremely rank in front and continued to fight Garrett Gomez while speeding through fractions of :22 2/5 and :45 3/5. Anthony's Cross was well placed in a stalking second by Joel Rosario, and he advanced to challenge Tapizar on the far turn.
Although Tapizar still had his head in front at the six-furlong mark in 1:09 4/5, it was apparent that the favorite was running out of steam, and that Anthony's Cross was moving the better of the pair. Also on the move was Riveting Reason, who had been biding his time in midpack and was now looming in third.
Anthony's Cross took over turning for home, but Tapizar stayed in the hunt along the inside until the final furlong, when he retreated. By then, Riveting Reason emerged as a greater danger on the outside and soon matched strides with Anthony's Cross. The two dueled to the wire, with Anthony's Cross proving just the stronger. The bay colt negotiated 1 1/8 miles on the fast track in 1:48 3/5 and paid $18.60, $8 and $15.60.
"He broke a little slow," Rosario said of Anthony's Cross. "He showed me a little bit of speed in the first turn, and I just let him go to find where he wanted to be. I could see the favorite (Tapizar) was giving Gomez some trouble. I saw Gomez try to take his horse back a bit, and his horse fought him a little bit. I stayed a little closer to the pace today, but it probably didn't make the difference in the race. He's a good horse and it was no surprise to see him run that good."
Another 4 1/4 lengths back in third came Quail Hill (Candy Ride [Arg]), trailed by Thirtyfirststreet (Good Journey), Tapizar, Wegner (Dynaformer) and Ten Devils (Rock Hard Ten).
"He (Tapizar) was super-aggressive today," Gomez recapped. "I couldn't ever really get him shut off too much. He was kind of wound in post parade, a little antsy at the gate. He was a little more of a handful. He was just antsy. I thought when he cleared and made the lead he would come back to me, but he never really would. He just kept pulling."
"He seems to be walking OK right now," trainer Steve Asmussen said of Tapizar back at the barn, "but he's pretty tired."
Anthony's Cross more than quadrupled his earnings to $195,020 from his 6-2-0-2 record. Fourth in his career debut at Saratoga last July, he next finished third in a September 4 maiden at the Spa, yielding only to eventual Grade 3 winner Astrology (A.P. Indy) and multiple Grade 2 star To Honor and Serve (Bernardini). Two starts later, Anthony's Cross broke through with his aforementioned 2 1/2-length score beneath the Twin Spires. The Sham marked his stakes bow.
"We've toyed with the idea off and on (of adding blinkers) since his first start," Harty revealed, "and I just thought he'd come around and mature mentally on his own and he didn't, so I felt it was time to give him a little help. We worked him with the blinkers twice prior to this race, and he showed vast improvement both times.
"He's just been kind of a big Baby Huey and it's taken him a while to get focused. I was hoping he'd come around on his own. I didn't really want to rush to put the blinkers on him, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do."
Bred by George Strawbridge Jr. in Pennsylvania, Anthony's Cross was sold for $300,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling. His dam, the unraced Unbridled mare Screening, has now produced two graded stakes winners from her only two runners to date. Her first foal is Fugitive Angel (Alphabet Soup), heroine of last fall's Valley View S. (G3) at Keeneland, and her latest foals are a juvenile filly named Holiday Fashion (Harlan's Holiday) and a yearling filly by Posse. Screening is herself a half-sister to three stakes performers, most notably Smart Bid (Smart Strike), who just missed by a nose in the recent Gulfstream Park Turf H. (G1).
Anthony's Cross' second dam is Grade 3 queen Recording (Danzig), and his third dam is Grade 2 victress Ratings (Caveat).
Harty confirmed that Anthony's Cross would continue to take the Santa Anita road to the May 7 Kentucky Derby.
"Definitely," the horseman said. "There's no reason to move him. I've got to decide whether to give him one more start before the Santa Anita Derby ([G1] on April 9) or just sit and wait. It's a long time between now and then, so it takes some serious consideration."