The 2011 Breeders' Cup Sprint
Going back to his three-year-old season, Amazombie had shown himself to be a consistent racehorse. More often than not, he showed up in the top three during the 2009 and 2010 campaigns while gaining a few wins along the way.
But 2011 will unquestionably go down as the Cal-bred's career year.
Under the guidance of trainer Bill Spawr, Amazombie never finished worse than third in the first seven starts of his 2011 season. Among those efforts were wins and placings in several stakes events, and he added a pair of graded victories to his budding resume. One of those came in the Grade I Ancient Title Stakes during the Santa Anita autumn meet, and what followed soon after was the opportunity for an even bigger score.
A short distance horse, Amazombie was entered in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs on November 5. He had not been in a race of this magnitude before, but he had some positive factors in his corner going into the Grade I.
First, he was proven at the six furlong distance that made up the Breeders' Cup Sprint. And second, he had his regular rider, Mike Smith, in the irons for the event. And Smith knew all about winning at the Breeders' Cup long before he rode Amazombie, so having the Hall of Fame jockey aboard was a huge plus for the Northern Afleet gelding.
Nothing is guaranteed in Thoroughbred racing, but a perfect finish to an already banner season was within Amazombie's reach. If he could take the trophy in the Sprint, that perfect finish would come to fruition.
Counting Amazombie, the Sprint drew a field of nine. The wagering gave the impression that bettors saw it as a wide-open race. The tepid favorite was Jackson Bend, winner of Saratoga's Grade I Forego Stakes and runner-up in the Grade II Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park. Not far behind was Big Drama, the defending Sprint champion who took the 2010 edition at Churchill Downs. Also seen as a principal contender was Euroears, who beat Amazombie in the Grade I Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar over the summer.
Amazombie took some action at about 8-1 as one of the midpack betting interests. He had been in good form all year, but there were questions surrounding him. One was whether he had the class to win the biggest race of the year for sprinters. And how well would he perform out-of-state? Up to that point, Amazombie had only raced in California, so handicappers were asking themselves if he could handle racing in an unfamiliar venue.
After an excellent start, the Sprint field transformed into two packs. Euroears, Force Freeze, Giant Ryan and Big Drama made up the leading quartet. Amazombie guided the second group as everyone traversed down the backstretch and the far turn at a rapid pace. Not long before reaching the head of the stretch, moves were being made. Force Freeze emerged in front as a couple of horses from the back began catching up. One of them was Amazombie.
As Force Freeze straightened, a line of horses spread out behind him. After a perfect rally from behind and an equally perfect turn into the stretch, Amazombie was in the center of that line. A perfect path on the leader's outside greeted him as the Sprint wound down, and he and Smith took full advantage of it.
With the tempo still swift, it did not take long for the race to come down to Force Freeze and Amazombie. Each horse gave it their all as they journeyed towards the wire, exerting toughness as they distanced themselves from everyone else. Then Amazombie began narrowing the gap with every stride. The bay gelding had a regal look about him as he caught Force Freeze and put his head in front with about a half-furlong to go. Force Freeze fought back, but he could not draw level, and Amazombie took his place as the fifth Cal-bred to wear the title of Breeders' Cup champion by a head in a final time of 1:09.17.
That would not be the final accolade for Amazombie, either. The Sprint was a year-end showdown for sprinters, and it titled the battle for Champion Sprinter honors in his favor. At the Eclipse Awards a couple of months later, Amazombie joined the likes of fellow Cal-breds Snow Chief and Tiznow as a winner of racing's most prestigious honor. The California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association (CTBA) Awards went well for him, too, for he was named the top Cal-bred Sprinter for 2011 thanks to his finest hour on the track.
And Bill Spawr no doubt felt immense pride with the training job he did. With his tutelage, Amazombie became a champion. They were a perfect match, the horse who loved to sprint and the veteran conditioner whose experience took them to the top of the sprinting division. And at the same time, they teamed up to give each other the grandest moment of their respective careers.
For all the work they did together, which was highlighted by that wonderful outcome in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Sprint, Amazombie and Spawr deserve to be remembered as one of the most successful horse and trainer combinations to ever grace California racing.