Indian Firewater outgunned his early foes and refused to give way in the final strides when challenged on the far outside by stablemate Tweebster to give trainer Bob Baffert another victory in the $150,000 San Fernando Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Jan. 15.
The desperately close nose triumph gave Baffert his fourth win in the San Fernando, the second leg of Santa Anita's famed Strub series, tying him with Laz Barrera for most wins in the 59-year-old event. Indian Firewater topped a field of eight 4-year-olds.
I was just happy to see our two horses coming down the stretch together there," said assistant Jim Barnes, deputizing for the absent Baffert. "You want them both to win, but that was as close to a dead-heat as you could get. At first I thought Indian Firewater won, then watching the replay I thought maybe the outside horse (Tweebster) because it was it was at a different angle, way to the outside. But well take it one-two.
Indian Firewater chased Sidney's Candy in vain in the the off-the-turf Sir Beaufort Stakes (gr. III) on Santa Anita's dirt track Dec. 26, losing by 7 1/4 lengths while finishing second. But when Sidney's Candy, the odds-on choice, was scratched out of the San Fernando with an injury, the decision was made by Baffert and jockey Mike Smith to attempt to take the field all the way, which is exactly what the 4-year-old son of Indian Charlie accomplished.
Indian Firewater scored the first graded stakes win of his career.
Breaking from the outside for Smith, Indian Firewater dueled from off the rail early against favored Thiskyhasnolimit, ridden by Garrett Gomez. Indian Firewater, getting to the inside on the backstretch, maintained a half-length edge while clicking off fractions of :23.45, :46.95, and 1:10.52 in the 1 1/16-mile test.
Indian Firewater inched away in the lane as Thiskyhasnolimit weakened and he held a one-length advantage mid-stretch as the stalking Tweebster, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, was angled very wide for the final drive. Under strong urging from Smith, Indian Firewater held on gamely over second choice Tweebster, who finished well but just missed. The final time was 1:41.53 on a fast track.
Going into this race, we thought wed let him run away from there and if we made the lead, fine," Smith explained. "When I came out to the paddock, they told me Bob (Baffert) had called an audible, and there was a change in strategy -- Put him on the lead.
"Down the backside, he was running easily and he was within himself and breathing really good," Smith added. "I wasnt sure if we won it, because the other horse (Tweebster) was out so wide.
Do It All, ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, finished 1 1/4 lengths back in third, followed by 17-10 pick Thiskyhasnolimit, Paris Vegas, Haimish Hy, Make Music for Me , and Victory With Honor.
Indian Firewater's only prior victory over winners came in the Nashville Stakes on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track Nov. 18, the race prior to the Sir Beaufort, which was to be the dark bay or brown colt's first try on the grass. He banked $90,000 for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman while boosting his career totals to 3-6-3 in 14 starts with earnings of $257,120.
Sent off as the third choice, Indian Firewater carried 118 pounds and paid $13, $6.60, and $4.40. Tweebster, who was making his stakes debut following wins in his past three races for Baffert, returned $5.60 and $4 and completed a $53.20 exacta. Do It All, a game third at 16-1 in his stakes bow for trainer Eoin Harty, was $8 to show.
John and Laura Mulholland bred Indian Firewater, a $400,000 Keeneland September yearling in 2008, in Kentucky. He is out of Touched, by Touch Gold.