Anybody who says there is no such thing as a sure thing at the racetrack has never seen Viva El Capitan run at Santa Anita.
One of the most popular local performers, the 5-year-old gelding is a neck away from perfection in 10 starts at Santa Anita.
Owned by Maynard Davis and Charles Novak and trained by Bob Baffert, the Arizona-bred Viva El Capitan won his ninth race in Arcadia when he rallied to beat another professional, Pharaoh's Heart, by a half-length in Sunday's seventh.
His only loss came when longshot Giant Asset turned in a career-best effort, winning in 1:08 1/5 for six furlongs on Feb. 21.
Overall, Viva El Capitan has won 12 of 18, and he should be 13 for 18 because he was disqualified in his first start, a $32,000 maiden race at Los Alamitos on July 30, 1991. A 13-1 shot, he won by 2 3/4 lengths in 51 4/5 for 4 1/2 furlongs but was disqualified and placed eighth for interference on the backstretch.
Usually close to the pace, the son of Elegant Life broke seventh of nine from the rail on Sunday, was still seventh after a quarter of a mile, then began to move up under David Flores along the inside, swung to the outside entering the stretch and got up to win in 1:08 3/5.
Despite his glossy record at Santa Anita, he was the 5-2 second choice in the $41,000 allowance race, primarily because he drew the inside post and Pharaoh's Heart, the 7-5 favorite, had the more comfortable outside.
In his previous victory (March 16 against $80,000 claimers), Viva El Capitan was on or near the lead every step of the way under Corey Nakatani, repelled a bid by each of the other four horses in the race and defeated Town Caper by a neck.
"He is the quintessential racing warrior," said Eoin Harty, Baffert's assistant trainer. "He's probably (the barn favorite) because of his attitude. You just have to love it.
"He just loves the competition. David rode him perfectly (Sunday), and things opened up for him. The general public was afraid of the rail, too, because they let him off at 5-2. I think he would run well anywhere, so I don't think this track is the reason he has such a great record on it. I think he could win on the Harbor Freeway.
"You put the bridle on him (on race day) and he knows he's going to war. He gets his game face on."
Reclaimed by Baffert for $16,000 Dec. 26, 1992, after the trainer had lost him for $25,000 a little more than three months earlier, Viva El Capitan has piled up victories despite having screws and pins in both ankles.
"Basically, all his problems have been with his ankles," Harty said. "You name it and he's had it. He's gone through periods of soundness and unsoundness, but right now he's the soundest he's been in a long time, probably since he was a foal."
Flores, who has been aboard for two of his last three victories, is also a fan.
"As soon as you move your hands on him, he responds," said Flores. "You don't need a whip. It's unbelievable the way he tries. He's something special. He always gives you everything he has."
Jockey Alex Solis will be sidelined for a week after cutting his right foot in an accident at his Glendora home.
Third in the standings behind Kent Desormeaux and Gary Stevens with 64 victories entering Wednesday's program, Solis was injured when a plate dropped from the freezer, broke and cut his foot. He had a deep laceration and it was to be repaired with minor surgery on Wednesday.
Eddie Delahoussaye and Chris McCarron were also off their mounts Wednesday. Delahoussaye is day to day after having a wisdom tooth removed Tuesday. McCarron had the stomach flu.
The dental work cost Delahoussaye three winners Wednesday. Chris Antley won the first with Prince Quick, Goncalino Almeida took the second with Uncanny Ann in the second and Desormeaux picked up fourth-race winner Tough Prospecter.
Marconi, who would have been one of the favorites in Saturday's California Derby at Golden Gate Fields, will be sidelined indefinitely because of an ankle problem.
This is the second Kentucky Derby prospect that trainer Gary Jones has lost this week. Game Coin, second in the Louisiana Derby and scheduled to run in the Blue Grass on Saturday, is sidelined because of what Jones calls "a halfway wrenched right ankle."
An impressive winner of a maiden race in his California debut on March 5, Marconi suffered a hind ankle injury during a workout Sunday. "I'm not sure what it is or how long he'll be out," said Jones. "The X-rays were inconclusive. We'll probably have to do a bone scan."
Horse Racing Notes
For the next two weeks, Bob Baffert will be in Arkansas, where Flagship Commander will make his first start as a 3-year-old in the Bachelor Stakes on Saturday and Sir Hutch will run in the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap on April 21. . . . It looks as if the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap will have 11 starters on Saturday, headed by The Wicked North. Kent Desormeaux will ride The Wicked North and Flagship Commander. Others in the field are Devil His Due, Hill Pass, Kissin Kris and Myrakalu. . . . In addition to the Oaklawn Handicap, Santa Anita will also simulcast the Blue Grass Stakes from Keeneland and the California Derby. . . . Soul Of The Matter, scratched from the Santa Anita Derby, will be shipped to Kentucky Tuesday and make his next start in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 24. . . . Wild Invader, another Santa Anita Derby scratch who was scheduled to make his next start in the Wood Memorial Saturday at Aqueduct, will run instead in the California Derby. He will be shipped today and be ridden by Goncalino Almeida.