01/15/2011 6:24PM

Tapizar's win in Sham gives Asmussen a major player in division

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Santa Anita’s return to a dirt surface this season prompted trainer Steve Asmussen to finally send a string of horses to the West Coast, and California fans are quickly realizing that wherever Asmussen runs, he wins.

On Saturday, Asmussen threw down the gauntlet in the local 3-year-old division. Comma to the Top and J P’s Gusto are atop the local leaderboard right now, but they will have a serious new challenger in Tapizar, whose West Coast debut in the Grade 3, $100,000 Sham Stakes was most impressive.

After dueling for the early lead through quick fractions, Tapizar disposed of his pace rival, Uncle Sam, and just kept on motoring, rolling to a 4 1/4-length victory under jockey Garrett Gomez.

Tapizar ($4.20), the favorite in the field of five, recorded splits of 22.62 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 45.25 seconds for a half-mile, 1:08.83 for six furlongs, and completed 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:40.38. Clubhouse Ride rallied for second, five lengths in front of third-place Anthony’s Cross. Uncle Sam faded to fourth, and Pride of Silver trailed throughout.

“I was very concerned when they put up the fractions, but if I hadn’t looked at the board I wouldn’t have been,” Asmussen said, noting the comfortable way in which Tapizar cruised on the front end. “This is a racetrack that’s yielding fast times.”

Asmussen joked that Santa Anita’s circumference must be “80 yards short of a mile.”

The victory was the second straight for Tapizar, who was a 10 1/2-length winner against maidens at Churchill Downs going 1 1/16 miles on Nov. 27 in his fourth start.

“His last race was excellent,” Asmussen said. “He showed a lot of ability. Now we have to keep him healthy and see if he can go far enough. He gives us a lot of confidence. He’s talented, but he still has a lot of play in him, a lot of kid in him.”

Tapizar is by Tapit, and is out of the Deputy Minister mare Winning Call. He was bred and is owned by Ron Winchell’s Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC.