01/17/2012 1:25PM

Santa Anita: Amazombie to get 2012 campaign under way in Palos Verdes

Barbara D. Livingston
Amazombie (left), with Mike Smith up, defeats Force Freeze in the BC Sprint, clinching an Eclipse Award.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The champion sprinter of 2011 has a slight identity problem around the Bill Spawr stable at Santa Anita.

The nameplate on his halter has read AMAZOMBEI for months and not AMAZOMBIE. When the error was noticed, Spawr and his team were offered a revised halter. It was not allowed under the shedrow. Blame superstition, but Amazombie has had too much success with the misspelled halter.

“They brought a new one with the correct spelling,” Spawr recalled last weekend. “We said, ‘Oh, no. We don’t want it.’ ”

The folks around the Spawr barn know quite well who Amazombie is. Racing fans have come to know him well, too. Amazombie was in peak form last fall, winning the Grade 1 Ancient Title Stakes at Santa Anita on October and the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs in November, victories that ensured he was named champion sprinter at the Eclipse Awards Monday night.

Amazombei – or rather Amazombie – has the same Breeders’ Cup race as a long-term goal in 2012, a campaign that begins in Saturday’s $150,000 Palos Verdes over six furlongs at Santa Anita. The Grade 2 Palos Verdes will be Amazombie’s first start since his win by a neck over Force Freeze in the BC Sprint on Nov. 5.

The break has left Spawr confident that the 6-year-old gelding can have an equally big season this year.

“It’s hard to surpass the year he had but we feel he could be as good,” Spawr said.

A winner of 10 of 23 starts and $1,525,708 for Spawr and partner Tom Sanford, Amazombie has risen from a modest beginning of his career to become a champion. By Northern Afleet, Amazombie needed five races to beat maidens in 2009, was gelded in the middle of his 4-year-old in 2010, and could have been claimed for $62,500 twice that season.

At one point before he was gelded, Amazombie was the subject of a potential sale, though nothing materialized.

“We kept getting offers, but they weren’t the amount we asked for,” Spawr said. “Finally I said, ‘No one is going to buy him.’ After that, he changed.”

Last year, Amazombie won 5 of 9 starts, with the wins coming in stakes at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Churchill Downs. He earned $1,327,000.

Spawr’s assistant, Darryl Rader, 45, has watched Amazombie grow and improve.

“It’s special to see the horse change and how he can show it off around the nation,” he said.

For 2012, Spawr, 72, envisions campaigning Amazombie primarily in California.

After the Palos Verdes, Spawr intends to give Amazombie four races before the BC Sprint at Santa Anita in November. Among the races under consideration this spring are the $150,000 Potrero Grande Stakes on April 7, or the $200,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park a week later.

There will be no international trip for the $2 million Golden Shaheen in Dubai.

“The goal is the Breeders Cup here,” Spawr said. “We passed Dubai because it can take so much out of a horse.”

The rest of the 2012 schedule is California-based – the Los Angeles Handicap at Hollywood Park in the spring, the Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar in the summer, and a defense of the Ancient Title Stakes in the fall.

“That’s our goal, but we haven’t talked to him about it,” he said, gesturing toward Amazombie’s stall.

The gaps in that schedule do not concern Spawr. He says that Amazombie can be let down after a race and return to peak fitness weeks later. Amazombie returned to serious training in the weeks since the BC Sprint, and Spawr says he is as sound as ever.

“He’s 6 now,” Spawr said. “Being around him as long as we have, he’s never had an issue. No heat or anything. We gave him a month off after the Breeders’ Cup. We took his shoes off and then we started jogging him. He’s put on a little more weight.

“I schooled him [Jan. 15] to see what he was like, and he was a lot sharper. I think it’s because we haven’t done much with him. He’s easy to train and not hard on himself. He’s ready.”