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Bill Spawr has another gem in Skye Diamonds

Skye Diamonds and jockey Tiago Pereira win the Grade III $100,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap horse race in 2017.
Skye Diamonds and jockey Tiago Pereira win the Grade III $100,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap horse race in 2017.
(Associated Press)

Few trainers have had to work harder for everything they’ve gotten than Bill Spawr. For more than 40 years he has worked mostly as a public trainer. Few deep-pocketed owners, no sheiks, no $1-million 2-year-olds.

The 78-year-old has gained a reputation for spotting horses, usually claimers, and then coaxing the best out of them.

“I didn’t inherit [great horses] from another trainer,” Spawr said. “I didn’t have a family involved that had money. I had to start at the bottom. I was a groom for a while. I worked for vets for 14 years.

“I had some really good experiences.”

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It’s that positive outlook and a quick wit that make him a favorite on the backstretch. He arrives around 3 a.m. every morning and has the pleasure of waking up his stable of 28 horses.

Among those that hear her trainer rattling around well before the sun wakes up is Skye Diamonds. She was your classic Spawr acquisition, a $40,000 claimer that has gone on to win more than $500,000 and six of nine races since switching barns.

Skye Diamonds will be running Sunday in the Grade 3 $100,000 Las Flores Stakes at Santa Anita. She should be the heavy favorite in a field of six going the sprint distance of six furlongs.

Spawr and owners Allen Racing, Bloom Racing Stables, Tom Acker and Jon Lindo, were looking for a 3-year-old filly.

“She had run some consistent races and I watched her run and I liked the way she looked,” Spawr said. “She was a Cal-bred, so there were some [race] conditions I thought we could have some fun with. But I never expected this ride.”

Lindo said he talked his partners into going for this horse.

“She looked like a hard-running filly,” Lindo said. “At worst, we could run her for a tag [claiming race] and get out.”

But that’s not how it happened. They ran her back in a $50,000 claimer. She won. Then a Cal-bred conditioned allowance in which she finished second. They entered her again for the same conditions and she won as the favorite.

Everything changed Feb. 16 of last year when they upped her to a $62,500 conditioned allowance at Santa Anita.

“I was watching both the head on and pan shot with my assistant trainer Darryl Rader when she came into the stretch and took off like a rocket,” Spawr said. “I was in awe. I couldn’t believe the kick she had in the stretch. I said we really have something special.”

From there, Skye Diamonds has been running nothing but stakes races, winning three of five, and a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Fillies and Mares Sprint.

But along the way there was a bump. Skye Diamonds finished second to the talented Vale Dori in the Adoration Stakes at Santa Anita. But a urine test showed the filly had an overage of 56 picograms (a picogram is one-trillionth of a gram) for the legal medication clenbuterol, which is generally used to treat breathing issues.

“We couldn’t believe it,” Spawr said. “It had to be a mistake. We watch those things closely.”

Spawr was suspended for 30 days.

“I was disappointed but I had a vacation for a month,” Spawr said. “My first in 13, 14 years.”

Rader temporarily took over main care of the horse and Spawr returned to get her ready for the Breeders’ Cup.

Sunday’s race is as much a prep race as anything for Skye Diamonds. If all goes well, she’s pointed to the Santa Monica Stakes at Santa Anita on March 24. If she’s successful there, she has to head out of town because of a lack of top-graded stakes for sprinters in California. The Humana Distaff Stakes on Kentucky Derby day at Churchill Downs is the goal.

“She doesn’t have a Grade 1 win,” Lindo said. “There isn’t one in California and we need to get one against her name. I think she’s good enough to do it.”

Lindo, who has owned horses since 1986, originally used another trainer.

“But Bill just kept beating me,” said Lindo, who is a handicapper for Today’s Racing Digest and several Las Vegas hotels. “One of my business clients had a horse with Bill, so I switched.”

Lindo has been with him since.

“No matter what, he finds a way to win,” Lindo said. “He always asks, ‘Where do you want to run?’ I just say I want to win races. He’s good about that [happening].”

Spawr could not have had this kind of career without a lot of loyal owners. His horses have made almost 9,500 starts in his career, with a 17% win rate. His horses have earned more than $45.5 million in purses.

He’s run in 10 Breeders’ Cup races, winning in 2011 with Amazombie. Eight of his 10 starts have been sprints. The thing about trainers who do a lot of claiming is they don’t usually get Kentucky Derby prospects. He’s never run in that race.

“I’m undefeated,” Spawr said, always looking on the positive side.

johnacherwa@gmail.com


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