COMEBACKING CROWN OF THORNS TAKES ON NINE IN SUNDAY’S GRADE II POTRERO GRANDE STAKES

ARCADIA, Calif. (March 31, 2011) – Crown of Thorns may not have won a race since capturing the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes over three years ago, but the comebacking 6-year-old has the credentials to be a major player in Santa Anita’s Grade II, $150,000 Potrero Grande Stakes at 6 ½ furlongs on Sunday.

He was the morning line favorite in the Grade I, $1 million Breeders’ Cup Mile last November at Churchill Downs before being declared because of a knee problem that would require what was described as minor surgery.

Trained by Richard Mandella for Spendthrift Farm, Crown of Thorns merited favoritism in the Breeders’ Cup event following a couple of half-length losses. He was second to Richard’s Kid in Oak Tree’s Grade I Goodwood Stakes after a runner-up effort to El Brujo in Del Mar’s Grade I Pat O’Brien Stakes.

He has raced only eight times in a spotty career. But Crown of Thorns has fired every time following his first start. His record of 2-4-1 has generated earnings of $687,080.

Rafael Bejarano will ride the returnee when facing nine rivals in the 29th running of the stakes race that is carded as the eighth event on a program of nine races with first post at 12:30 p.m.

Crown of Thorns’ opposition includes the extremely quick Atta Boy Roy, freshened since being pulled up in distress after finishing 10th in the Grade I, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Initial fears of something more serious were unfounded, according to trainer Valorie Lund, who said that the 6-year-old ridging had suffered nothing more than some superficial cuts and bone bruises in his hind ankles.

Atta Boy Roy, winner of the Grade II Churchill Downs Stakes last May along with three other stakes during his career, has been victorious in 10 of his 23 lifetime starts while finishing second six times for earnings of $479,696.

He has raced at nine different tracks. His only previous start at Santa Anita resulted in a seventh-place finish behind Gayego and Crown of Thorns in the Grade I Ancient Title Stakes two years ago.

“He’s been training exceptionally well, maybe better into this season than last season,” Lund, who is based at Turf Paradise in Arizona, told the Daily Racing Form. “We are ready to rock.” Atta Boy Roy will be ridden by Vicky Baze.

The comebackers will have to contend with the sharp Captain Cherokee, who is coming off solid runner-up efforts in a pair of Grade II sprint stakes, the Palos Verdes and San Carlos Handicap. Joe Talamo rides the 5-year-old trained by Steve Asmussen. Captain Cherokee has won $272,756 from a 4-6-1 record in 14 races.

Amazombie is a on a roll for trainer and co-owner Bill Spawr. After winning the $200,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint in January, the 5-year-old California-bred gelding suffered a narrow loss to Quick Enough when second in the Sensational Star Stakes on turf. Mike Smith will be aboard the son of Northern Afleet whose 6-4-2 record in 16 starts has accounted for earnings of $328,708.

Trainer Bob Baffert will send out the event’s defending champion, Ventana, who nosed out Gato Go Win as the 8-5 favorite in 2010 Potrero Grande. In his three subsequent races, however, the son of Toccet chased Atta Boy Roy in the Churchill Downs Stakes and Captain Cherokee in both the Palos Verdes and San Carlos. Martin Garcia will be aboard the 5-year-old owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. Ventana has banked $288,002 from a 3-4-2 showing in 17 lifetime starts.

Bruce Headley, who has saddled the Potrero Grande winner a record six times, will seek No. 7 with comebacker M One Rifle, on the shelf since last July following a fourth place finish in the Grade I Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park.

The 5-year-old bay gelding, who defeated Misrembered by 2 ½ lengths in winning Santa Anita’s Grade I Malibu Stakes in 2009, has been working swiftly for his return. Chantal Sutherland will be in the saddle. M One Rifle has earnings of $405,872 from a 4-1-4 record in 11 lifetime starts.

The complete field for the Potrero Grande Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Atta Boy Roy, Vicky Baze, 120; Amazombie, Mike Smith, 118; Chocolate Candy, Corey Nakatani, 118; Don Tito, Joel Rosario, 118; Captain Cherokee, Joseph Talamo, 118; M One Rifle, Chantal Sutherland, 118; Crown of Thorns, Rafael Bejarano, 118; Colgan’s Chip, Brice Blanc, 118; Ventana, Martin Garcia, 120, and Bet On Victor, Patrick Valenzuela, 118.

-30-