08/09/2017 9:00AM

When it comes to the claiming game, you have to wake up pretty early to beat Spawr

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Benoit & Associates
Skye Diamonds, a $40,000 claim by trainer Bill Spawr, wins the Grade 2 Great Lady M. at Los Alamitos.

DEL MAR, Calif. – At a time when many are ending their evening revelry around here at Del Mar, that’s when the day starts for trainer Bill Spawr.

“I get up at 1:30 or 1:45, exercise for 20 or 25 minutes, do some stretches for my back, and get here at 2:45 – every single day,” he said, except he used a more colorful word than “single.”

“I like getting to the barn early. It’s quieter. I get more done. I can get a better look at the horses.”

By 8:30 or 9, Spawr already is back at home for a quick nap, and after an afternoon at the races, bedtime is usually around 7 p.m. If you want to have dinner with Spawr, grab the early-bird menu.

That has been Spawr’s routine for years, and his dedication to the sport and attention to detail have kept his mid-sized barn of 28 horses a force on this circuit through an era that has seen bigger trainers get bigger and smaller trainers get even smaller.

Spawr, 77, is on pace to have his best year since 2011, when he campaigned Amazombie, that year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner and Eclipse Award-winning male sprinter. Entering Wednesday’s races at Del Mar, he had won with 21 of 75 starters, a strike rate of 28 percent.

“It’s been a great start,” he said outside his Del Mar barn the other morning.

Once again, it is a sprinter who leads the way for Spawr, only this time it is a filly, Skye Diamonds. She was claimed here nearly one year ago for $40,000 and will seek an unquestioned hold as the best local female sprinter on Sunday in the Grade 3, $100,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap.

Skye Diamonds won the day Spawr claimed her for a partnership, and since then she has won five times in seven starts, including the Grade 2 Great Lady M. last time out at Los Alamitos, defeating the reigning female sprint champ, Finest City.

“She had some real minor issues,” Spawr said of Skye Diamonds when she first came into his barn. “We’ve learned that spacing out her races is best. It seems like six weeks between races is ideal. At Santa Anita, we trained her a lot on the training track, and she just blossomed. Her hair changed, her muscle tone got better.”

Spawr has been one of the sharpest at the claiming game for decades now. He claimed the filly Exchange for $50,000 for Sid and Jenny Craig, and she went on to become a three-time Grade 1 winner on turf and earner of more than $1.2 million, with her victories including the Matriarch. Sensational Star, claimed for $32,000, went on to win sprint stakes like the Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien here and the Triple Bend at Hollywood Park. My Sonny Boy, claimed for $62,500, won the inaugural California Cup Classic in 1990.

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But Spawr said the longer he has been in the game, the tougher it has become to claim, simply because there are some people from whom he won’t take a horse.

“I won’t claim from a guy stabled in the same barn with me, and I have a lot of friends I won’t claim from,” he said. “It makes it compromising. There was a race the other day with eight horses, and I couldn’t claim six of them. But I’ve got to live with these guys. I’d rather keep the friendship. It’s the right thing.”

In preparation for claiming, Spawr or his assistant, Darryl Rader, are stationed at the paddock every race, making notations on their program as to the condition of each horse, particularly the legs, but also their behavior. When those horses run back, Spawr has a record of what they looked like, information that becomes invaluable as horses move up or down the class ladder.

“Allowance horses, later on they could drop, and you’ve got notes on them from before,” Spawr said. “I keep two years worth of programs. I just threw out 2014 and half of 2015. If they haven’t run in two years, I’m not interested.”

Skye Diamonds had raced seven times before Spawr claimed her from Mike Machowsky. It was the first time she was in for a tag. She had won twice against California-breds but had been well beaten in a pair of minor stakes, one on dirt, one on turf.

“I thought Mike was making the right move,” Spawr said. “I’d have done the same thing if I owned her. Her last race wasn’t quite as good as what she’d done before. We thought we’d take a chance. We thought the worst thing that could happen is she’d be worth $25,000 to $32,000.”

Skye Diamonds has turned out to be worth a whole lot more. She’s a legitimate contender for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, to be run here Nov. 4. That’s enough to get anyone up and at ’em.