ARCADIA, CA – For the second time following the Pat O’Brien Stakes (G2), the red-hot C Z Rocket defeated Flagstaff in Sunday’s $200,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes (G2).

The Santa Anita Sprint Championship is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event, with C Z Rocket receiving an automatic berth in the Sprint at Keeneland this November.

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C Z Rocket was the 7/5 favorite as he broke from post 4 under Luis Saez and soon settled into a close stalking position outside of Flagstaff, who posted opening fractions of :22.33 and :45.27.

Still trailing at the top of the stretch, C Z Rocket lit his afterburners and fought to take the lead at the 1/16 pole, then held off a truly game Flagstaff to win by a head.

The Peter Miller trainee completed the 6-furlong fast dirt sprint in 1:09.14.

Credit: Ernie Belmonte

“I didn’t expect to be that close, but he broke so sharp and he took me there,” Saez said. “I decided to let him settle and keep him happy. When I pulled the trigger turning for home, he took off. I love this horse, now he’s ready for the real deal.”

The 3-year-old Collusion Illusion, already qualified for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint after winning the Bing Crosby Stakes (G1) last time out, failed to improve upon his early stalking position before crossing third.

Desert Law and Giant Expectations completed the order of finish.

C Z Rocket’s win was his fifth straight since owner Tom Kagele claimed him for $40,000 in April and improved his overall record to 22-9-1-2 with $551,641 earned. New co-owners Gary Barber and Sol Kumin bought into the Florida-bred 6-year-old City Zip gelding prior to this race and will send him to the World Championships as a dangerous threat for Miller, who won the 2017 and 2018 Sprints with Roy H.

“It was the owner, Tom Kagele who picked the horse,” Miller said about the decision to claim him. “I wouldn’t have picked him, his form was too bad to claim him, but I did like that he had run some fast races in the past. We thought if we could get him back into that form, he could be a very nice horse. You never think you’re going to claim one and win a Grade 1 with them.”

C Z Rocket returned $4.80 to win, $2.80 to place, and $2.10 to show. Flagstaff brought back $3 to place and $2.10 to show, while Collusion Illusion paid $2.10 to show.