December 5, 2022

American Anthem stars with prolific Smith in Woody Stephens

American Anthem will be seeking his fourth graded stakes victory (c) Melanie Martines Photo

American Anthem made it look easy, accelerating to the lead off the far turn and cruising to a 3 ¼-length decision in the $500,000 Woody Stephens (G2), and Mike Smith continued a spectacular day on the Belmont Stakes undercard, winning his fourth stakes from as many mounts.

The Bob Baffert-trained winner has found his forte in one-turn events after finishing up the track in a pair of Kentucky Derby preps, recording his second consecutive victory at 7-furlongs following a 1 ¾-length tally in the May 13 Laz Barrera (G3) at Santa Anita.

Owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, SF Racing et al, American Anthem was off as the 9-5 favorite among 11 runners and stopped the teletimer in 1:22.14. Baffert and Smith also teamed to win the Acorn (G1) with Abel Tasman and the Easy Goer with West Coast earlier on the program. And the duo came back a few races after the Woody Stephens to capture the Met Mile (G1) with Mor Spirit.

“He ran really well,” said Smith, who also piloted Songbird to a victory in the Ogden Phipps (G1) earlier in the day. “We kept trying to jump into the Triple Crown thing with him. It might have been a little too much for him at the time. Bob did a great job of assessing that and knowing that and backing way off on him. He started back and got him back running short and we’ll go from there; see if we can stretch him out later.

“He was moving around the turn but the wind picked up and, man, it’s a big, bad headwind around the turn. I was out in the open and I just started getting my little body as low as I could just to kind of get through the wind. It was really slowing us. But once I got through it, boom, he took off.

“It’s just like the good old days; back in New York and getting the opportunity to ride some great horses today for Bob (Baffert) and Jerry (Hollendorfer, with Songbird). It’s just a blast. You point the good ones in the right direction and they get the job done.”

Bred in Kentucky by WinStar, American Anthem sold for $435,000 at last year’s OBS March 2-year-old sale. He’s from the first crop of Bodemeister and hails from the A.P. Indy mare Indy’s Windy, who is a half-sister to champion 3-year-old filly Banshee Breeze.

“The odds are usually against you, but so far we’ve had good trips and good horses,” Baffert said. “They came in here, prepped well and shipped well. All you can ask for is that they run as well as they ship. There’s a lot of pressure on a big day. You don’t want to embarrass a good horse on a big day.”

American Anthem has now earned $389,545 from a 6-3-1-0 record.

Giuseppe the Great rallied to be a clear second at 30-1 odds. Recruiting Ready, who established splits in :21.79 and :44.81, weakened to third after setting the pace as the 9-2 second choice. Petrov completed the superfecta.

While American Anthem has been dynamite in last two appearances sprinting, Baffert said don’t rule out a return to routes.

“Mike Smith has always thought he’d go longer. The way he sat there, and when he pushed the button I thought, ‘wow.’ It was pretty impressive.”