04/03/2011 7:46PM

Santa Anita: Amazombie nails Captain Cherokee at wire of Potreo Grande

Amazombie and jockey Mike Smith, outside, overtake Captain Cherokee to win the Potrero Grande.

ARCADIA, Calif.- Grudgingly, Amazombie is gaining respect in California’s sprint division with each start this year.

A 5-year-old gelding, Amazombie won the Sunshine Millions Sprint for California-breds and Florida-breds at 11-1 in January, finished a game second in the Sensational Star Handicap in February, and won his first graded stakes on dirt in Sunday’s $150,000 Potrero Grande Stakes at Santa Anita.

“He’s the real deal,” said trainer and co-owner Bill Spawr. “No one believes in him. He came to the race just perfect.”

Ridden by Mike Smith, Amazombie ($9.20) closed from sixth in a field of 10 to win the Grade 2 Potrero Grande by a head over an unlucky Captain Cherokee, who finished 2 1/4 lengths clear of Ventana. M One Rifle ran fourth, followed by Don Tito, Chocolate Candy, 9-5 favorite Crown of Thorns, Bet On Victor, Colgan’s Chip, and Atta Boy Roy.

Amazombie ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.26. The hard-fought stretch run did not surprise Spawr. “He wants to beat you,” Spawr said of Amazombie.

Smith had Amazombie in sixth or fifth for the first half-mile, trailing M One Rifle, Atta Boy Roy, and Bet On Victor, who contributed to an early pace of 21.41 and 43.45 seconds. Amazombie was fifth with a furlong remaining, trailing M One Rifle by two lengths at that point, but linked with Captain Cherokee while racing wide to produce a thrilling finish.

Smith said he needed a touch of racing luck in traffic to help Amazombie find racing room.

“I just wanted to get out in the clear,” he said. “I just kept needling my way out and I finally got in the clear.”

Co-owned by Thomas Sanford, Amazombie has won 7 of 17 starts and $418,708. Last fall, he could have been claimed for $62,500 at Hollywood Park when he finished third and first in two optional claimers over six furlongs on turf.