(Originally published in the April 28, 2012 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
the bottom of the column.)
Bill Spawr got Amazombie as part of a two-horse package for $5,000...and turned
him into last year’s Sprint champion
By Tracy Gantz
Human athletes have an advantage over equine athletes, so conventional wisdom goes, because we know when to expend all of our energy and when to conserve some for later. Tell that to Bill Spawr, who trains 2011 sprint champion Amazombie and co-owns the gelding with Tom Sanford.
“He’s so professional—in the morning you’d think he’s a pony,” said Spawr. “And then as soon as he gets on the racetrack in the afternoons, he knows it’s game day. He’s like a pro ballplayer. In practice he’s a lazy bum, hangs out and watches the guys train, and gallops along like a pony. But on game day, as soon as you put the tack on him, he’s all business.”
That attitude extends to the race itself, as Amazombie demonstrated in his most recent effort, the seven-furlong Potrero Grande Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita April 7. He stalked in second and won by three-quarters of a length under a hand ride by Mike Smith, who was winning the 5,000th race of his career.
“Sprinters run so hard that it’s hard to keep them sound,” said Spawr. “You have to space their races because they have to run from the gate to the wire almost full bore. But with Amazombie, he only runs the last quarter-mile. He saves himself, and it makes him a much sounder horse.”
Spawr, 72, has been around plenty of good horses. A six-time leading trainer at a major Southern California race meet, he has conditioned the likes of multiple grade I winner Exchange, 2006 Ancient Title Breeders’ Cup Stakes (gr. I) winner Bordonaro, and champion California-bred sprinter Sensational Star.
As professional as his current champ, Spawr knows not to get too attached to his animals, especially since he came up through the claiming game. But he can’t help himself with Amazombie.
“He’s part of the family,” said the trainer.
After Amazombie won last year’s Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) to clinch the male sprinter Eclipse Award, the story quickly made the rounds as to how Spawr lucked into him. Spawr visited Judd Morse’s Southern California training center to look at yearlings, and Morse needed to sell some horses of racing age owned by recently deceased Gregg Anderson, Amazombie’s breeder. The group included the Cal-bred son of Northern Afleet—Wilshe Amaze, by In Excess.
Spawr showed some interest in another colt by Northern Afleet and thought he agreed to buy that horse for $5,000. Morse believed he was selling both youngsters to the trainer for that amount. Amazombie became known as the “extra” horse who got thrown into the deal.
Spawr brought his friend Sanford in as co-owner of Amazombie. Gelding the colt after his sixth start proved the final piece in turning Amazombie into a champion.
“I think cutting him is when he really changed,” said Spawr. “That helped him a lot. We take a lot of time with him because he allows us to. Every afternoon he walks around and hangs out in the sun. You probably wouldn’t even need a shank with him.”
Because Spawr co-owns Amazombie and Sanford is happy to defer the decisions to him, they have been able to bring him along at his own speed. As good a year as Amazombie had last year at age 5, when he won five stakes, Spawr feels he is even better this year.
Away from the races for nearly four months after winning the Sprint at Churchill Downs, Amazombie this year tuned up with a third in Santa Anita’s San Carlos Stakes (gr. II) to The Factor before winning the Potrero Grande for the second consecutive time.
“He’s got more strength now, more muscle tone, and good color,” said Spawr.
Immediately after the Potrero Grande, Spawr indicated that Amazombie would try for a second Tiznow Stakes on Gold Rush Day April 28 at Betfair Hollywood Park. But a Churchill Downs official suggested nominating Amazombie to the seven-furlong Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II) May 5 and pointed out that the purse had risen to $400,000.
Right after that, Smith called Spawr and said, “You are going to Kentucky, right?”
Spawr likes the idea of staying in California, but Smith and the lucrative purse may tilt him toward Kentucky.
“Over the surface at Churchill, he could run a mile,” Smith told Spawr. “He feels so much different over that track. He just gets over it better.”
Amazombie has also proved that he likes the dirt at Santa Anita, the site of this year’s Breeders’ Cup. Spawr is hoping for a chance at a second consecutive Sprint. Because of his soundness and love of his job, Amazombie could compete even longer, perhaps a couple of more years.
Even after Amazombie’s racing career ends, the trainer will likely keep this family member around the barn.
“I plan to make him my pony,” Spawr said.