On paper, Prince Of Thieves looked like a sure thing in the $252,400 San Felipe Stakes on Sunday at Santa Anita.
Then the starting gates opened.
The 2-5 favorite, considered by many to be California's top Kentucky Derby candidate, broke a step slowly, then was squeezed back and forced to steady, losing all position. He dropped back to last, then wound up a nonthreatening fourth in the field of seven.
Odyle, who had tried stakes with some success before breaking his maiden in his sixth start, was the beneficiary of the favorite's bad luck and a contested pace.
Ridden by Corey Nakatani for owners John Toffan, Trudy McCaffery and Ron Brimacombe and trainer Paco Gonzalez, who turned 51 Sunday, Odyle rallied from last after a half-mile to beat Smithfield by a half-length in 1:42 2/5 for the 1 1/16 miles.
Racing with Lasix for the first time, the colt has two consecutive victories and will return in the $1-million Santa Anita Derby on April 6.
"He'd been training real well for this race," said Gonzalez. Odyle was second in both the Norfolk and Hollywood Futurity late last year. "I think his last race [an eight-length victory on Feb. 19] gave him a lot of confidence. That's what he needed. He was very green before."
Trainer Wayne Lukas didn't lose any confidence in Prince Of Thieves, who finished a little more than seven lengths behind Odyle.
"Everything that could happen in a race that could go wrong went wrong," he said. "It was just one of those nightmare trips. The best part of it is you get another chance down the line.
"On May 4 [the day of the Kentucky Derby], you don't get the other chance."
Lukas added that he's not sure where Prince Of Thieves will surface next.
Smithfield, last in the San Rafael Stakes on March 2, rebounded Sunday, finishing three-quarters of a length ahead of Cavonnier, who enjoyed a perfect trip behind the fast pace set by Budroyale and Tiz The Whiz. Budroyale finished sixth and Tiz The Whiz was eased through the stretch.
Even though Lukas didn't win the San Felipe, his Grindstone took the $370,000 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and the much-heralded Dr. Caton broke his maiden in his third start at Santa Anita.
Ridden by Jerry Bailey, Grindstone, the 2-1 second choice, sat just off the pace early, then took charge in the stretch to win by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:42 3/5 for the 1 1/16 miles. Zarb's Magic, the 3-2 favorite, was second, four clear of 21-1 shot Commanders Palace.
Third in his first two races, Dr. Caton went right to the front under Gary Stevens as the 2-5 choice, set slow fractions, then kicked away late to win in 1:43 for the 1 1/16 miles.
Horse Racing Notes
Charlie Whittingham, Smithfield's trainer, and Cavonnier's trainer Bob Baffert said their horses will run next in the Santa Anita Derby. . . . Cobra King, who finished eighth of nine in Saturday's Florida Derby, came out of the race fine and is scheduled to make his next start in the Blue Grass Stakes on April 13. . . . Jockey Pat Valenzuela, who was able to win only six races at the Gulfstream Park meeting that ended on Saturday, said he will ride for a couple of weeks at Hialeah, which started Sunday, before going to Keeneland for its spring meeting. Valenzuela said he has no plans to return to California in the near future. . . . Northern Spur, who will make his second start of the year in the $250,000 San Luis Rey Stakes on Sunday, worked a mile in 1:40 1/5. . . . The first 2-year-old race of the year locally will be run Wednesday. Eight fillies will go two furlongs in the day's sixth race. It is the first time in more than 20 years that 2-year-olds will run at Santa Anita's winter-spring meeting. . . . Darren Firestone of Sherman Oaks came within an inch of winning $1 million in Santa Anita's annual St. Patrick's Day horseshoe pitching contest. By being closest to the stake, Firestone took home $6,000.