06/10/2017 3:48PM

American Anthem wins Woody Stephens Stakes as Baffert, Smith dominate card

Justin N. Lane
American Anthem and jockey Mike Smith win the Woody Stephens Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Bob and Mike's big day at Belmont continued in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens Stakes as they teamed up with American Anthem to get the third of their four stakes wins together on the day.

Earlier on the card, trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith won both the Grade 1, $700,000 Acorn with Kentucky Oaks winner Abel Tasman and the $150,000 Easy Goer with West Coast. They would reunite later on the Saturday card to complete their perfect day in the Grade 1, $1.2 million Metropolitan Handicap with morning-line favorite Mor Spirit. Smith had a solo winner two races prior to the Stephens when he won the Grade 1, $750,000 Ogden Phipps with champion Songbird.

Earlier in the week, Baffert said he was "real happy" with the four horses he was sending to New York to run on the Belmont Stakes undercard and that he'd "like to run the table" with them.

"You always feel that way, of course," Baffert said after the Woody Stephens, "but it's all about good trips and good horses. There's a lot of pressure on a big day like this. You don't want to come in and embarrass yourself."

Smith gave American Anthem a ride very similar to what he did with West Coast in the Easy Goer. He settled American Anthem off the pace in the $500,000 Stephens, then swept to the lead four wide entering the stretch. American Anthem quickly pulled away to win the seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds by 3 1/4 lengths under only moderate pressure.

"Mike has always thought he'd go longer," Baffert said. "The way he sat there and the way he finished I thought was pretty impressive."

American Anthem paid $5.90 as the favorite in the 11-horse field. He was timed in a rapid 1:22.14.

"It's just like the good old days back in New York, getting the opportunity to ride some great horses," said Smith, a former leading rider on the New York Racing Association circuit. "It's just a blast. You point the good ones in the right direction, and they get the job done."

At the start, Recruiting Ready, the second choice at 9-2, was brushed between horses and didn't get away sharply. He moved up to take the lead inside Hard Scramble and set fractions of 21.79 and 44.81 seconds before being displaced by the winner.

Giuseppe the Great, along the inside early, moved into a contending position behind the leaders on the far turn. He wrested second from Recruiting Ready in midstretch and pulled away to best him by 2 1/2 lengths. Recruiting Ready held third by a length over Petrov.

American Anthem is owned by WinStar Farm, the China Horse Club, and Head of Plains Partners. He is from the first crop of Bodemeister, who finished second to I'll Have Another in the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Bodemeister, the sire of Always Dreaming, the winner of this year's Kentucky Derby, stands at WinStar.

WinStar bred American Anthem and then sold him as a yearling for $180,000 at Keeneland in 2015 before reacquiring him for $435,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. March auction of 2-year-olds in training.

WinStar Farm is owned by Kenny Troutt. The farm's president and chief executive, Elliott Walden, said it was "unusual" to buy back a horse they had already sold, especially at a higher price.

"Mr. Troutt has a saying, 'Don't let your last decision affect your next decision,' " Walden said. “I told him we wanted to buy this colt back at almost three times what we paid for him, and he gave me the go-ahead."

Baffert was noncommittal about a next race for American Anthem but certainly has plenty of options.