ARCADIA, Calif. — In a head and head thriller, trainer Peter Miller’s C Z Rocket prevailed by a hard fought head over John Sadler’s Flagstaff in Sunday’s Grade II, $200,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship, final prep to the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Keeneland on Nov. 7. Ridden for the first time by Luis Saez, C Z Rocket, who is now unbeaten in five starts with Miller since being claimed for $40,000 last April at Oaklawn Park, covered six furlongs in 1:09.14.
Breaking sharply from his number four post position in a field of five 3-year-olds and up, C Z Rocket was immediately into contention and while under restraint, sat three quarters of a length off Flagstaff as they left the half mile pole.
Turning for home, Flagstaff, with Victor Espinoza up, drifted out a bit, carrying C Z Rocket into the three path and from there, it was game on in the run to the wire, with neither horse giving an inch in great stretch duel.
“I didn’t expect to be that close, but he broke so sharp and he took me there,” said the eastern-based Saez. “I decided to let him settle and keep him happy. When I pulled the trigger turning for home, he took off. I love this horse, now he’s ready for the real deal.”
A winner of the Grade II Pat O’Brien Stakes going seven furlongs on Aug. 29 at Del Mar, C Z Rocket, a 6-year-old Florida-bred gelding by City Zip, was off as the 7-5 favorite and paid $4.80, $2.80 and $2.10.
“There were a lot of things involved in this. We recently sold a part of him to Gary Barber and Sol Kumin and I really wanted to win for those two gentlemen. Flavien (Prat) took off him and I wanted to prove that he made the wrong move.
“I just wanted to win this race. It’s a big race and this horse has won four in a row, so to win five in a row is big and puts us squarely in the picture for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
“It was the owner, Tom Kagele who picked the horse. I wouldn’t have picked him, his form was too bad to claim him, but I did like that he had run some fast races in the past. We thought if we could get him back into that form, he could be a very nice horse. You never think you’re going to claim one and win a Grade 1 with them.
“We’re definitely leaning toward the Sprint, he’s won the last four (5) going one turn. We’re going to keep him one turn.”
With his second consecutive graded stakes win in-hand, C Z Rocket, who is out of the Successful Appeal mare Successful Sarah, is now 22-9-1-2 and with the winner’s share of $120,000, he has earnings of $551,641.
Flagstaff, who ran too good to lose, was off as the third choice in the wagering and paid $3.00 and $2.10.
Ridden by Prat and off at 9-5, Collusion Illusion, who broke from the rail, couldn’t go with the top two late and finished 1 ¼ lengths behind Flagstaff while paying $2.10 to show.
Fractions on the race were 22.33, 45.27 and 57.13.
The Santa Anita Sprint Championship is a Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In” Challenge Race qualifier, with the winner earning a fees-paid berth to the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 7 at Keeneland.
“I’ve owned horses since 1999 and we were with (trainer) Mike Machowsky. This is unreal, we’re so happy. The Breeders’ Cup people contacted us after he won the Pat O’ Brien and they said we could come, so we’re bringing a party! This is so great, to see what he’s done with Pete,” C Z Rocket’s owner Tom Kaegel excitedly said.
“I was very lucky to be a part of Southern Image with Mike (Machowsky) and we won the Santa Anita Handicap (2004), and now to be in a position to run in our first Breeders’ Cup, wow!”
Photo: C Z Rocket with Luis Saez up. Credit: Benoit Photos