Madaket Stables, Slam Dunk Racing and Michael Nentwig's Air Strike provided a 12-1 upset in Saturday's Grade 2 Triple Bend Stakes, running down Cistron in the shadow of the wire to win by about a half-length. The 4-year-old Street Sense colt was ridden by jockey Norberto Arroyo, making just the fifteenth start of his comeback after being away from the racetrack for more than a year; it was his second win on the card. Trained by Phil D'Amato, Air Strike completed seven furlongs over Santa Anita's fast main track in 1:23.12.
“This horse ran great,” said Arroyo. “It was a basic easy ride from coming off the pace. I give all the credit to God, and Phil who brought the horse ready, I just took him out, he did it all himself. To be honest, it's not me, it's God. I've made a lot of mistakes in the past and I'm trying to do things the right way now. When you do the right things, good things happen.”
Air Strike raced at the back of the pack as Cistron out-footed The Hardest Way to make the lead, setting fractions of :22.10 and :44.53. Cistron tried to kick away from the field in the stretch, but Arroyo had Air Strike rolling on late and hit the wire just in time. Air Strike bested Cistron by a half-length, while Nero checked in third. Favorite American Anthem was fourth after being stuck behind horses at the top of the stretch, and Majestic Eagle was fifth.
“It looked like it was going to work out on paper,” said D'Amato. “I told Norberto to just let them set the table for you and just come with that big wide run and just keep on em'. He followed instructions to a tee with a great ride and got the job done. We were going to use Prat, but he had the call on Kanthaka (who went in the Daytona Stakes instead) and Joe (Talamo) had the call for Ron Ellis (The Hardest Way), so we were left looking for a jock. Norberto has been breezing a lot of horses for me and I thought he was the kind of rider who could fit this horse. You have to stay on this horse the whole time. With a quarter of mile to go, you have to ride him like you are riding a bicycle. Norberto never stopped. He kept making up ground and we got up at the end.”
Bred in Kentucky by Gary and Mary West, Air Strike made three starts under the silks of his breeders before he was purchased by Slam Dunk Racing. The colt broke his maiden in his very next start at Del Mar, then won an allowance at Santa Anita before finishing second in a listed stakes race at Zia Park. In 2019 Air Strike finished fourth in both of his starts, both at a mile, so shortening up to seven furlongs appears to have worked in the colt's favor. Overall, Air Strike has won three of his 10 starts for earnings of nearly $280,000.
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