FAST PACE AWAITS AGGIE ENGINEER IN SATURDAY’S GR. II SAN PASQUAL, FIELD OF SIX SET TO GO 1 1/16 MILES IN TRADITIONAL BIG ‘CAP PREP

ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 5, 2011) – One month after recording his first stakes victory, 6-year-old gelding Aggie Engineer was expected to be well positioned on Saturday to snare another, Santa Anita’s Grade II, $150,000 San Pasqual Stakes, the first major steppingstone to the March 5 Santa Anita Handicap.

But after Bob Baffert took a look at the projected field for the 74th San Pasqual, the trainer of Spurrier commented, “I might be in trouble.” So Baffert entered speedier stablemate Red Door Drive along with Spurrier. Both are owned by Arnold Zetcher.

The added presence of speed-prone Ryehill Dreamer in the field of six older horses going 1 1/16 miles may help prevent Aggie Engineer from duplicating his runaway of Hollywood Park’s Native Diver Handicap.

Under jockey Joe Talamo, Aggie Engineer led from start to finish in the Grade III competition at 1 1/8 miles to defeat Spurrier by 1 ¾ lengths after doddering splits of 50 2/5 and 1:15 2/5. “He (Aggie Engineer) walked the dog,” Talamo noted afterward.

Millionaire Dakota Phone, last November’s Grade I Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile champion who had finished third in the 2010 Big ’Cap, could be the greatest beneficiary of a speedier pace. Dakota Phone, the 8-5 favorite, had to settle for fourth in the Native Diver while unable to muster the late kick that carried him from 12th to first in the Breeders’ Cup event.

“They were going too slow for him,” said Joel Rosario, Dakota Phone’s rider, after the Native Diver. “He wanted to be closer today because they were going so slow. But with a slow pace like that, they continue to keep running on the lead.”

Said Victor Espinoza, who rode Spurrier in the Native Diver, “The slow pace really affected him because I can’t change the style my horse likes to run. He ran a good race today considering.” Jockey Rafael Bejarano takes over in the San Pasqual.

Aggie Engineer will seek his third straight win with Talamo aboard on Saturday while racing over a dirt surface for the first time. His overall record of 6-4-2 in 16 starts has earned $268,290 for owners Ward and Roberta Williford, who bred the son of E Dubai in Kentucky.

Dakota Phone demonstrated a proclivity for dirt tracks with his Breeders’ Cup win on Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer for John Carver, Halo Farms, George Todaro and partners, the 6-year-old gelded son of Zavata has posted a record of 6-7-9 in 33 starts for earnings of $1,279,810. He will carry high weight of 123 pounds, conceding five to each of his five opponents on Saturday.

Spurrier ran second to Neko Bay at odds of 25-1 in last year’s San Pasqual, which was contested over a synthetic surface. The 6-year-old gray son of Dixieland Band has earnings of $276,947 from a record of 5-6-2 in 25 races. He broke his maiden over Aqueduct’s dirt main track in February of 2008.

Red Door Drive, although a winner of only 4 of 24 starts while earning $166,840, has the speed to be a forward factor throughout for jockey Martin Pedroza. Ryehill Dreamer, trained by Julio Canani for Marsha Naify, scored a wire-to-wire win in an optional claimer on turf during Hollywood Park’s Oak Tree meeting in October. Garrett Gomez will be astride the 5-year-old gelding who has earned $149,007 from a 3-2-1 showing in eight starts.

The complete field for the San Pasqual Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Aggie Engineer, Joseph Talamo, 118; Quindici Man, Patrick Valenzuela, 118; Ryehill Dreamer, Garrett Gomez, 118; Dakota Phone, Joel Rosario, 123; Spurrier, Rafael Bejarano, 118, and Red Door Drive, Martin Pedroza 118.

The San Pasqual will be presented as the seventh race on a nine-race program with first post at 12:30 p.m. The San Antonio Stakes, a Grade II at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 6, is the second major stepping stone leading up to the Big ’Cap.

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