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AGGIE ENGINEER CAN JOIN SELECT COMPANY AS FAVORITE TO PARLAY VICTORY IN SAN PASQUAL TO SUNDAY’S GRADE II SAN ANTONIO STAKES
ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 3, 2011) -- Trainer Paddy Gallagher’s Aggie Engineer, a 6-year-old gelding who had not won a stakes race until two months ago, suddenly finds himself in position to join some select company in Sunday’s 73rd running of the Grade II, $150,000 San Antonio Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Santa Anita’s main track.
Following his 3 ½-length romp in the Grade II San Pasqual on Jan. 9, Aggie Engineer can become only the 10TH horse dating back to 1935 to complete a double in the pair of stepping stones that lead to the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap on March 5.
And Ward and Roberta Williford’s homebred son of E Dubai will be a solid favorite among seven San Antonio entrants on Super Bowl Sunday to do just that. His eventual aim is to become just the fourth horse in history to sweep the three climaxed by Santa Anita’s signature event.
In deference to the Super Bowl, Santa Anita will present an eight-race program beginning at 11 a.m. on Sunday with the last race scheduled in time to get most fans home for the football kickoff.
Aggie Engineer didn’t seem to be going much of anywhere until last Oct. 22 at Hollywood Park when he embarked on a three-race winning streak under Joe Talamo that includes the Grade III Native Diver Handicap.
He has now reached the cusp of exclusive company. The last horse to complete the San Pasqual-San Antonio double was Congaree in 2003. He finished second behind repeater Milwaukee Brew in the Big ‘Cap. The others (with Santa Anita Handicap finish in parenthesis): 1996 – Alphabet Soup (10th); 1991 –Farma Way (1st); 1990 – Criminal Type (2nd); 1981 – Flying Paster (4th); 1976 – Lighting Mandate (3rd); 1971 – Ack Ack (1st); 1967 – Pretense (1st); 1941 – Mioland (2nd).
Aggie Engineer became a late bloomer after an ankle injury delayed the start of his career and restricted him to a single start as a 3-year-old. He’s been a consistent earner since breaking his maiden in his debut, but stakes productivity seemed out of his reach.
Earlier graded stakes ventures produced sixth place finishes in a pair of Grade II competitions: The 2009 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park and last year’s San Marcos at Santa Anita. He finished sixth again in the ungraded Windy Sands last summer at Del Mar before a freshening that preceded his current roll. It began with a 2 ½-length score in an optional claimer at Hollywood Park on Oct. 10.
There was a sense that Aggie Engineer had stolen the Native Diver on the front end, but he came back in the San Pasqual to prove that he doesn’t need the lead. He raced in third during much of the San Pasqual’s early running.
The chestnut gelding will take a 7-4-2 record in 17 lifetime starts and earnings of $358,280 into the San Antonio while in search of his fourth straight victory for the Willifords, who reside in Dallas.
A private purchase by the C R K Stable of Lee and Susan Searing after breaking his maiden by 17 ¼ lengths while going one mile at Calder Racecourse in Florida, Gladding will make his stakes debut in the San Antonio.
Having joined the barn of John Sadler, Gladding made a successful transition to Southern California when impressively capturing an optional claimer by 2 ¼ lengths on Dec. 29 at Santa Anita despite being bumped in deep stretch. Leading rider Rafael Bejarano will be back aboard the 4-year-old gelding whose overall record is 2-2-1 in 9 races for earnings of $71,825.
Arnold Zetcher’s Spurrier, second to Aggie Engineer in both the Native Diver and the San Pasqual, will give it another go with Joel Rosario in the saddle for trainer Bob Baffert. The 6-year-old gray son of Dixieland Band will be seeking his first stakes victory in the San Antonio. He has earned $306,947 from a record of 5-7-2 in 26 career starts.
Dakota Phone, scheduled to switch to grass in Saturday’s Grade III Thunder Road Handicap at one mile, was also entered in the San Antonio by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. With Corey Nakatani named to replace Rosario in the saddle, the 6-year-old bay gelding chased Aggie Engineer in two off-the-board starts since registering a 37-1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile last November at Churchill Down. Dakota Phone would bring the highest earnings into the San Antonio: $1,282,810 from a career record of 6-7-9 in 34 starts.
The complete field for the San Antonio Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Gladding, Rafael Bejarano, 118; Big Shot Syd, Alonso Quinonez, 118; Dakota Phone, Corey Nakatani, 123; Quindici Man, Patrick Valenzuela, 118; Podre Ir, David Flores, 118; Spurrier, Joel Rosario, 118, and Aggie Engineer, Joe Talamo, 123.
The San Antonio is scheduled as the sixth race. The fourth race, the sixth running of the $40,000 added Super Bowl Party Starter Handicap for fillies and mares at one mile on turf, attracted a field of eight. Indizguys Stable’s Talktoomuch, with Rosario to ride, is the high weight at 123 pounds.