10/29/2011 9:52AM

Zombie in the darkness


Activity at the Santa Anita stables was minimal at 5 a.m. Saturday. It was dark, after all.

But trainer Bill Spawr always starts early. His first set went to the training track at 4:45. The main track opened at 5.

The morning surface is fresh, one reason Spawr prefers to train early. That includes the big horse.

Amazombie was scheduled Saturday for his final workout before shipping to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Exercise rider Nacho Vasquez applied two flashing lights to his helmet. Otherwise, he and Amazombie would be invisible working in the dark on the backstretch.

It was 5:10 when Amazombie set off to the track. He back-tracked the oval, before he turned around at his favorite spot between the three-sixteenths and eighth pole. He loves that spot.

Amazombie stopped, and stood quietly as a few horses went past.

“He would stand there all day if we let him,” Spawr said.

Amazombie stood still for five minutes, taking it all in. At 5:25, it was time go. It was time to work.

He galloped into the darkness at the clubhouse turn. The only things visible were the blinking lights on the rider’s helmet. Amazombie broke off at the five and a half, working alone.

Spawr hit the stopwatch as Amazombie hit the five-eighths. He started slowly. “13 and 2,” Spawr said as Amazombie picked up steam down the backstretch. “25 and 2,” he said after a quarter-mile.

Amazombie accelerated through the turn. “36 and 3,” Spawr said.

At the top of the stretch, illuminated by the grandstand lights, Amazombie was flying. He lowered his head, extended his stride, and flew home. “A minute and two … and he finished in 11 and 1,” Spawr said.

Amazombie galloped out seven furlongs in 1:28.60. Perfect.

The fractions reported by the track clocking crew were 25.20, 49.20 and 1:00.40.

Ten minutes later, Amazombie walked the shed row.

“Look at him, he’s not even blowing,” Spawr said.

It was Saturday morning in the pre-dawn darkness at Santa Anita, and the top sprinter in California dazzled.