After marshalling his craft with diligence and dedication for more than four decades, Bill Spawr became an overnight sensation in just over one minute.

That’s how long it took Amazombie to post a 7-1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5, covering six furlongs in 1:09.17 in a neck victory.

Spawr, who has worked around the race track since his high school days and who saddled his first winner in 1977, had flown under the national radar until the unheralded and unsung horse Amazombie put him on the map.

“I pinch myself every day I wake up,” said the California native of Bell, who turned 72 on Dec. 13, when asked if he can believe Amazombie’s achievement. “It’s great. It’s great for racing. We got a lot of publicity we otherwise wouldn’t have received. It’s a good story. It’s a rags to riches thing and people enjoy that.”

Amazombie is scheduled to make his 2012 debut at Spawr’s home base of Santa Anita in the Grade II, $150,000 Palos Verdes Stakes at six furlongs on Jan. 21. The soon-to-be 6-year-old California-bred gelding by Northern Afleet worked three furlongs on Santa Anita’s fast main track Friday in 37.20.

“It was just a maintenance work,” Spawr said. Still, Spawr was impressed, but not as much as he was with Ismene’s (pronounced IzMEknee) six furlong drill Friday in a bullet 1:10.60. The 2-year-old California-bred daughter of Tribal Rule is scheduled to run in the $100,000 California Breeders’ Champion Stakes for fillies on opening day, Dec. 26, one of four stakes, highlighted by the Grade I Malibu Stakes.

“She looked like a bullet going around there,” Spawr enthused. “This will set her up just fine.”

Named for two women in Greek mythology, Ismene was a first-out maiden winner at Del Mar last August, then came back to outrun 1-5 favorite Sister Moon in the Anoakia Stakes at Santa Anita on Oct. 22.

“She’s doing awesome,” Spawr said. “Both her wins were unbelievable races. She’s the real deal. She’s really got us excited and she’s continued to improve, so what have we got? We don’t know, but it’s exciting to think of how good she can be. She gets better and better.”

As for Spawr, usually the first trainer in and the first trainer out on Santa Anita’s backstretch, he takes subtle satisfaction in his better-late-than never recognition.

“It is satisfying,” Spawr said sheepishly, barely hiding a blush.


Lewis Cenicola, the beloved exercise rider for the legendary John Henry in his glory days, is under Hospice care for liver and pancreatic cancer at his home in Arcadia, according to Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally, who conditioned John Henry to Horse of the Year titles in 1981 and 1984.

“He was a very good horseman and I really liked him,” said the 79-year-old McAnally of Cenicola, who turned to training after his tour with McAnally. “He did some things with John Henry that I don’t think anyone else would have had the patience to do. He’d let him stand and look when he was on the track, and when John got ready to move, he would let him go.

“Cenicola was very instrumental in John Henry’s success, let me put it that way. He and Eduardo (Inda) and the groom . . . he was just . . . I can’t tell you enough about him. He was just good. He was with us for a while, then he left to open a delicatessen near San Jose with his brother. Then he came back. That’s when we had John Henry,” added McAnally.

“He was a good exercise boy; he never missed a day,” said Inda, McAnally’s long-time assistant and currently a trainer in his own right. “He was a happy guy and friends with everybody, a very nice guy to be around.”

Continued McAnally: “He liked to party at night, but he was always there at 4:30 in the morning. He got on a lot of good horses for us, all the good Elmendorf horses. He was the best.”

The most recent horse entered in Cenicola’s name was She’sawontontomato, who is scheduled to run in Friday’s sixth race at Golden Gate Fields.


With some 1,800 stalls filled, Santa Anita’s horse population is “very favorable right now,” as The Great Race Place embarks on its 75th anniversary meet Dec. 26, according to Donn Luby, the track’s Stall Superintendent since1999.

“We had capacity for even more,” Luby said, “but we lost 25 or 30 stalls due to damage from the recent wind storm, and about 100 for the filming of ‘Luck.’ But there seems to be quite a bit of enthusiasm from horsemen going into the meet.”

Luby, a fixture on Santa Anita’s backstretch along with his 10-year-old black toy poodle, Tuffy, trained for 20 years before assuming his present post. He was an assistant to trainer Gary Jones and achieved his signature victory when he saddled Eleven Stitches to win the Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup in 1981 through the disqualification of Caterman.

“I’ve been happy in my current position,” Luby said. “I was in the business since I was 16 when I started rubbing horses, and began training when I was 20. Right now, I’m 66, going on 90,” he joked.


“Certainly one of my favorite editions of the Malibu was Precisionist’s win in 1984,” recalled Jon White, longtime Trackman and columnist for Daily Racing Form who now makes Santa Anita’s morning line and provides paddock commentary for the track’s simulcast network.

“I had become a fan of Precisionist right from the beginning of his career when won his first race in the summer of 1983 at Hollywood Park with Terry Lipham in the saddle. After I saw Precisionist win his debut so easily that afternoon by 7 ½ lengths, I told my wife when I got home from the track that I had seen a young colt that could turn out to be one of the best horses I’ll ever see.

“Precisionist did have his ups and downs at 2 and 3. Early in his career, Precisionist was very high strung. I’ll tell you, his trainer, Ross Fenstermaker, really did a terrific job with Precisionist. Ross put hours and hours and hours of work and schooling into the colt and all that time and effort seemed to pay off when Precisionist eventually got over being so hyper.

“In the 1984 Malibu, Precisionist came from off the pace to win by daylight (2 ¾ lengths) in 1:21 and change (1:21 2/5) as the even-money favorite. He would go on to also win the 1 1/8-mile San Fernando and 1 ¼-mile Strub to sweep the Strub Series. Precisionist’s win in the Strub Stakes was a real thriller. He won it by a nose over Greinton.

“Later in 1985, Precisionist won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Aqueduct in early November off a long layoff. He hadn’t raced since running second in the Hollywood Gold Cup on June 23 because of bruised feet. Not only was Precisionist voted a 1985 Eclipse Award as champion sprinter, he ultimately was inducted into the national Hall of Fame in 2003. And I certainly consider Precisionist to be one of the best horses I have ever seen.”

FINISH LINES: Santa Anita Oaks winner Turbulent Descent is scheduled to work Saturday morning at Santa in preparation for the Grade I La Brea Stakes at seven furlongs on Dec. 31, Mike Puype said Friday morning. “She’ll go six furlongs tomorrow,” the trainer said. “Two more works and she’ll be ready. David Flores will work her. He always works her.” . . . Oak Leaf Stakes runner-up Candrea, prepping for the Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 6 ½ furlongs on Jan. 15, worked six furlongs on Santa Anita’s fast main track Friday in 1:11.40. “She went without blinkers and she went really well,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who also sent Bing Crosby winner Euroears four furlongs in :47.60, breezing . . . 2011 Santa Anita Handicap runner-up Setsuko worked three furlongs for Richard Mandella in 35.80, while Fleet Treat and Manhattan Beach Stakes winner Sugarinthemorning went six furlongs in 1:12.60 for Ron McAnally . . . Painted Woman, fourth in last month’s Glorious Song Stakes at Woodbine, worked a half mile for Steve Asmussen in 51.80…Also, San Antonio Stakes winner Gladding worked four furlongs in 48 seconds flat for John Sadler, while Clubhouse Ride, winner of the 2010 Barretts Juvenile Stakes and absent since finishing second in the Grade III Sham Stakes last January, worked four furlongs in 48.60 for Craig Lewis. . . Maria Ayala, assistant to owner/trainer/breeder Myung Kwon Cho, says Premier Pegasus is galloping and could have his first breeze in about two weeks. The Grade II San Felipe Stakes winner was favored to win the Grade I Santa Anita Derby last April before he was sidelined with an 11th-hour injury. “There’s no rush in bringing him back,” Ayala said . . . Jack Carava, who recently transitioned back to being a public trainer, is optimistic about the upcoming meet. “I’ve got Oakhart Racing and a few clients I’ve had in the past who are getting back into the game,” the trainer said. “We have about 30 horses here and are looking to add a few as we go along. We have some money in the account to claim a few horses, so we hope to get rolling.”