04/05/2012 2:32PM

Santa Anita: Amazombie will be tough to beat, if he goes

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Shigeki Kikkawa
If trainer Bill Spawr likes how the Santa Anita track surface is playing this week, he will send out Amazombie, the 2011 champion sprinter, as the horse to beat in Saturday’s $150,000 Potrero Grande.

ARCADIA, Calif. – All week long, people asked owner-trainer Bill Spawr the same question about the Grade 2 Potrero Grande on Saturday at Santa Anita.

“Is Amazombie running?”

All week, Spawr waited for the draw and complexion of the field before he answered the question.

“Is Amazombie running?”

Finally, the answer is a tentative yes. “I like the way the race came up, it kind of sets up for him,” Spawr said.

And if Spawr likes the track surface this week, the 2011 champion sprinter will be tough to beat in the $150,000 Potrero Grande, race 9 of 11. The trainer is reluctant, however, to start Amazombie over a speed-biased track.

“I’m going to watch [Thursday and Friday] and see if races are to the quarter pole, or to the wire,” Spawr said. “If it’s a fair track, if a closer has a fair chance, then I would say he probably will run.”

Twelve of the last 26 races at 6 1/2 furlongs (into Thursday), were won by the pacesetter. The profile concerns Spawr, whose backup plan is less than ideal.

Amazombie could run April 14 in the Grade 3 Count Fleet at Oaklawn Park, but Spawr and co-owner Tom Sanford prefer staying home. Furthermore, a ship to Oaklawn would preclude the $125,000 Tiznow Stakes April 28 at Hollywood Park even while the long-range plan is unchanged.

“The goal is the Breeders’ Cup,” Spawr said. “It’s how we get there.”

Amazombie won the 2011 BC Sprint at Churchill Downs, and in his first start of 2012 on Feb. 25 he finished third in the Grade 2 San Carlos at seven furlongs. Spawr and jockey Mike Smith believe it was the ideal comeback.

“Mike called me that night, and all he kept saying was, ‘We’re ready now,’ ‘we’re ready now,’” Spawr said, admitting Amazombie was not fully cranked. “I had him fit to run, but I didn’t put it to him.”

In the San Carlos, Amazombie finished third behind winner The Factor and Sway Away, who will provide the Amazombie with his main challenge Saturday in the 6 1/2-furlong Potrero Grande. Nine entered the $150,000 sprint, but the field will shrink.

Trainer John Sadler said California Cup Sprint winner Courtside is “probably not going to run. Six and a half furlongs is a little far,” Sadler said.

Allowance winner Smart Spending also is not likely. Trainer Carla Gaines said “probably not,” when asked if the gelding would start. The reason? “Amazombie is in there,” she said.

Even without Courtside, Spawr guaranteed a lively pace for Amazombie by entering Thunder of Zion. Claimed by Spawr and Sanford for $16,000 one month ago, Thunder of Zion adds blinkers and is expected to set the pace.

Sway Away’s chance to win took a hit when he drew the rail. “Nobody goes looking for the one hole,” trainer Jeff Bonde said. “But he’s a quality racehorse, and he just needs to run his race.” Sway Away’s runner-up finish in the San Carlos was his first start in eight months.

Other entrants include Mensa Heat, debut winner Roman Threat, Camp Victory, and Thinking of Girls.

The star of the show is Amazombie, who worked a half-mile Thursday at 5 a.m.

“He worked 47 and two, but he went the last quarter in 22 and three, and looked beautiful doing it,” Spawr said. Amazombie has won 10 races and more than $1.5 million from 24 starts.