AGGIE ENGINEER PROVES VERSATILITY IN DECISIVE VICTORY IN GRADE II SAN PASQUAL AT SANTA ANITA

ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 8, 2011) – Aggie Engineer proved Saturday that he did not need to be on or near the lead to be a stakes winner as the 6-year-old rallied from off the pace to dominate Santa Anita’s 74th running of the Grade II, $150,000 San Pasqual Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.

With Joe Talamo in the irons, Aggie Engineer was victorious by 3 ¼ lengths over Spurrier in a sprightly 1:40.94. It was the third straight victory for Ward and Roberta Williford’s 6-year-old homebred gelding and his first over a natural dirt surface.

With two other dedicated speedsters in the lineup, Aggie Engineer was asked to deal with early pressure, something he did not need to do when registering his first stakes win in his previous start, Hollywood Park’s Grade III Native Diver Handicap on Dec. 4. He coasted through a 50 2/5 half-mile and went six furlongs in 1:15 2/5 while posting that triumph at 1 1/8 miles over a synthetic surface in 1:51.

If Aggie Engineer needed another set-up Saturday, the betting public didn’t think so. They made him the 17-10 favorite despite the presence of fellow speed types, Ryehill Dreamer and Red Door Drive, not to mention 2-1 second choice Dakota Phone, the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile champion who is a dedicated deep closer.

Talamo let Red Door Drive and Ryehill Dreamer take care of the pace chores on Saturday while sitting comfortably in third. He rallied Aggie Engineer on the outside of those two rounding the far turn following splits of 47 3/5 and 1:11 2/5. The pair burst clear entering the stretch.

“Right when we broke I kind of looked over to see what was happening,” said Talamo. “I saw those two horses go, so right away I got him outside. Man, he ran like a real nice horse today.

“We won an allowance race at Hollywood Park where he sat just off the pace, so there was never really a doubt, and he really did it nice today. I either wanted to be on an easy lead, or have somebody go. I really didn’t want a speed duel at all.

“The tactics today were great. Two horses went to the lead and he laid right off. He’s such a professional horse in the way he relaxes and does things so easy. It was just a great race.”

Spurrier, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, edged Quindici Man, with Patrick Valenzuela aboard, for the place. Early leader Red Door Drive faded to fourth, a nose behind Quindici Man and one length ahead of Dakota Phone. The latter, who carried high weight of 123 pounds, never mounted a threat under Joel Rosario.

Aggie Engineer, who paid $5.40 for the victory, earned $90,000 from his biggest career victory in the race that has served as a time-honored steppingstone to the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap since 1935. This year’s Big ‘Cap will be run on March 5. The purse raised his lifetime total to $358,280 from a record of 7-4-2 in 17 races.

“That was a very good race from him today,” winning trainer Paddy Gallagher said in the winner’s circle, but Gallagher declined to mention what race might be next for Aggie Engineer, deftly noting “They’re all good.”

May Day Rose heads a field of five entrants in Sunday’s Grade III, $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/6 miles. The Santa Ysabel will be the third race on a nine-race program. First post is at 12:30 p.m.

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