ARCADIA, CA – Gift Box battled hard down the stretch and won by a nose in Saturday’s Santa Anita Handicap (G1) Presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino at Santa Anita Park. This was the first start of the year for the six-year-old son of Twirling Candy who has now won two straight graded stakes races building on his impressive performance in the G2 San Antonio last time out.
At the start, the 2-5 post-time favorite McKinzie broke well and moved to the lead at the first call. Prime Attraction also broke well and was quickly hurried to the front while McKinzie relaxed on the rail and Gift Box was moved up on his outside. As they hit the first turn, Prime Attraction had sole possession of the lead with Gift Box sitting just off of the pace on the outside and McKinzie Comfortably back on the inside. Mongolian Groom was next best and was followed by Campaign and Prince of Arabia, both of which were never much of a threat.
As they made their way down the backstretch, Prime Attraction continued to lead and set fractions of :24.24, :49.23, and 1:13.70. Mongolian Groom moved up to join McKinzie off the pace and Gift Box remained just behind Prime Attraction. As they made their way into the second turn, Gift Box drew even with Prime Attraction and McKinzie began his move. He quickly made up ground on the leaders and by the top of the stretch drew three wide with Prime Attraction and Gift Box who had a narrow lead.
Prime Attraction faded and gave way to McKinzie and Gift Box to battle it out on the lead. The two were neck and neck the whole length of the stretch. In a photo for first, it was Gift Box with jockey Joel Rosario aboard that came out on top as McKinzie and Mike Smith settled for second. Mongolian Groom held on to finish third and Campaign finished fourth.
It was a good race, he broke perfect out there,” said jockey Joel Rosario. “John told me to keep him close and when he wants to go maybe just follow someone. He did great and it was a good. Turning for home, I knew McKinzie was coming for us. He showed a lot of heart today and I have to thank Hronis Racing for the opportunity.”
With this win here today, Gift Box asserted himself as a horse to watch in the older male division. Gift Box is owned by Hronis Racing LLC and trained by John Sadler. John Sadler won the “Big ‘Cap” last year with Accelerate who went on to win an Eclipse Award for the older male division.
“This is very special. I grew up with this race. To win it two years in a row is incredible,” said trainer John Sadler. “Joel rode a great race, you could see that he had a lot of horse around the turn and he was just sitting on him. To beat a top horse like McKinzie in a photo like that – we needed it. We couldn’t be happier”
Gift Box returned $6.20 to win, $2.40 to place, and $2.20 to show. McKinzie brought back $2.10 to place and $2.10 to show, while Mongolian Groom paid $3.40 to show.