02/02/2012 2:31PM

Santa Anita: Tapizar tough to catch in Strub Stakes

Shigeki Kikkawa
Tapizar will try to string together stakes victories in the Strub.

ARCADIA, Calif. – January has been Tapizar’s month at Santa Anita the last two years, with eye-catching wins in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes in 2011 and the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes last month.

February was not good to Tapizar last year. He finished fifth in the Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes and emerged from the race with an injury that kept him sidelined until October.

This February, expectations are high. Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds, Tapizar will start as a heavy favorite in the $200,000 Strub Stakes over 1 1/8 miles for 4-year-olds at Santa Anita on Saturday. If he can duplicate the race he ran in the San Fernando Stakes over 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 14, winning by 3 1/2 lengths, Tapizar may be impossible to beat.

“We want to put together two like that,” trainer Steve Asmussen said last weekend. “It’s what he’s capable of when it comes together.

“We’re not looking for a Sham and Lewis repeat like we had last year.”

Corey Nakatani rode Tapizar to the win in the San Fernando and a victory in an optional claimer at Belmont Park last October, the colt’s first start since the Lewis Stakes. In both races, Tapizar led throughout, a style he is expected to display against seven rivals in the Grade 2 Strub.

Nakatani advises that any horse who attempts to go with Tapizar will not win.

“He’s an awesome horse,” Nakatani said. “If they want to go with him, they’ll get tired.”

Ultimate Eagle, winner of the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby and Grade 1 Hollywood Derby on turf last fall, has shown the ability to lead, but will not do so in the Strub. Trained by Mike Pender, Ultimate Eagle has won half of his eight starts, but has never run on dirt. He has made three starts on a synthetic track and five on turf.

Pender has trained Ultimate Eagle to run from just off the pace. Last summer at Del Mar, Ultimate Eagle won a turf race for maidens by closing 12 lengths from off the pace and catching a runaway longshot.

“I know he can come from 10 [lengths] off of it on the dirt,” Pender said. “In his works, he’s shown his rating tactics. He’ll relax.”

Trainer Bob Baffert has two accomplished starters in Jaycito, winner of the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes in 2010, and Prayer for Relief, a stakes winner at Louisiana Downs, Mountaineer Park, and Prairie Meadows last year. He downplayed the chances of both Thursday.

Jaycito, who drew the rail, has not started since finishing fifth in an optional claimer at Del Mar on Aug. 13. He later underwent a breathing operation.

“He needs a mile and an eighth,” Baffert said.

Prayer for Relief was third behind Tapizar in the San Fernando, losing second by a nose to Strub entrant Balladry in the final stride. Santa Anita’s main track may not be Prayer for Relief’s favorite, Baffert said.

“He hasn’t been that fond of the surface,” Baffert said. “He looks good and he’s healthy.”

Strub S. (G2), Post Time: 4:07 ET Saturday

Purse: $200,000; 1 1/8 miles





ML Odds



B. Baffert

M. Garcia



Prayer for Relief

B. Baffert

R. Bejarano



Beer Meister

M. Ortiz, Sr.

G. Corbett



Ultimate Eagle

M. Pender

M. Pedroza



Clubhouse Ride

C. Lewis

V. Espinoza



Indian Winter

J. Hollendorfer

J. Rosario




S. Asmussen

C. Nakatani




E. Harty

J. Talamo