Amazombie: An Appreciation

After the news of Amazombie’s passing last week, images of the past came to the forefront.

Well over a decade had gone by since the gelding had last raced, but the memories of him being a successful sprinter were still strong.

In a career spanning 29 starts, Amazombie turned into one of the highest-earning Cal-breds of the 2010s. He never had the popularity that fellow state-bred California Chrome accumulated during his career, but Amazombie earned respect for what he accomplished over four seasons on track.

The tale of Amazombie is one of hard work and determination, but it is also a coming of age saga. His career unfolded over three acts, with each one providing a layer of what was to follow.

The first act encompassed a time of youth interspersed with clear talent. In his first four starts, Amazombie picked up some minor awards while running on turf at Del Mar and Santa Anita. Start number four proved to be a foreshadowing of the future, for Amazombie tried sprinting for the first time on the hillside turf course. Finishing second that day, the race signaled Amazombie’s destiny: sprinting. And one start later on Hollywood Park’s main track, the son of Northern Afleet left the maiden ranks with his diploma.

That brings us to the second act: a year of growing up. Amazombie’s campaign largely consisted of turf outings, but he grew stronger. Producing four wins from nine starts (it would have been five if not for a disqualification at Del Mar), Amazombie also added a second and third to his campaign. He spent the year taking on allowance and allowance optional claiming company, but Amazombie’s potential was growing. For starters, he captured a turf victory on Santa Anita’s hillside, confirming his versatility on different surfaces. What’s more, he beat open company for the first time at Hollywood Park that July while winning for the first time after being in early contention. It seemed as though Amazombie was slowly building his repertoire in year two. Clearly, he had grown stronger and more experienced compared to 2009, but 2010 would take a back seat to what was in store later on.

Act three of Amazombie’s career saw him become a master sprinter. In nine starts, he was no worse than third. And he was part of the stakes ranks that entire year. In fact, he would never compete in anything but stakes for the rest of his career. After taking the Sunshine Millions Sprint in January, the milestones kept coming. The Grade II Potrero Grande marked his first graded score, and he won while leading at every point of call for the first time in the Tiznow. The Ancient Title Stakes that fall saw Amazombie become a Grade I winner for the first time (and how appropriate that a talented Cal-bred sprinter won a race named for a legendary Cal-bred sprinter). Then came the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Before heading to Churchill Downs, Amazombie had never raced outside California. The shipping alone was a test for the gelding. But if you ever saw him race, you know Amazombie was tough. And he showed that in Louisville.

Despite his record, Amazombie was not favored to win at 7-1. But the pace worked in his favor, as fast fractions unfolded in the Sprint. With the determination he had displayed in previous races, Amazombie took over late under the Twin Spires for the biggest moment of his career. And in the process, he did something Chrome never managed to do: become a Breeders’ Cup champion.

That secured Champion Sprinter honors for Amazombie at the Eclipse Awards and Champion Cal-bred Sprinter honors for 2011. After taking some time to get that first win, Amazombie now stood at the top of his sport.

The Breeders’ Cup Sprint was by far the most prestigious race Amazombie won, but he had some more victories in him. In 2012, he became only the second horse to win the Potrero Grande twice (it is now known as the Kona Gold), and he took the Grade I Bing Crosby at Del Mar that summer. His last two starts, which came in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship and Breeders’ Cup Sprint, yielded off the board finishes. But by then, Amazombie had nothing left to prove. In fact, he still became a champion again as he repeated as Champion Cal-bred Sprinter.

Retired after 29 starts, Amazombie lived to the age of 17. Now that he has passed, what is his legacy?

To begin with, Amazombie is a shining example of a horse everyone would want to own. Versatile, tough, classy, he had it all. It is undoubtedly true that he benefited from the riding prowess of Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith (who was aboard Amazombie for much of the gelding’s career) and the knowledge and experience of veteran trainer Bill Spawr, but the record also tells us something important. In those 29 starts, Amazombie won 12 times, and was worse than third on only six occasions. That is the sign of a quality racehorse.

If you watch Amazombie’s races, you will see a horse filled with toughness and determination. The brown horse knew the importance of the stretch run, as he fought gallantly during that part of a race. And he won his share of photo finishes as well, which is symbolic of his mental and physical strength. Simply put, Amazombie was a rugged horse who earned what he achieved. And he deserved all of it.

With his different running styles, his ability to handle different surfaces, his strength and his consistency, Amazombie was simply a terrific racehorse. Mike Smith, Bill Spawr and co-owner Thomas C. Sanford (Spawr was also a co-owner) are certainly proud of being part of such an amazing horse’s journey.

And for us racing fans, we were privileged to see such a horse in action during that time in the 2010s.

Published by Support California Horse Racing on September 26, 2023.