Kobe's Back lived up to his name with a stylish rebound in Sunday's Grade 2, $200,250 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita. By leaving his debacle in the December 14 CashCall Futurity well behind him, the powerfully-built gray joined stablemate Candy Boy on the Kentucky Derby trail for C R K Stable.
A $480,000 two-year-old in training purchase at OBS last March, Kobe's Back has raced only in stakes company in his brief career. The John Sadler trainee debuted in the June 15 Willard Proctor Memorial at Hollywood, where he broke badly, trailed the field, yet still blew his rivals away down the stretch to win handily by 3 1/4 lengths.
Kobe's Back was not seen again for five months. When returning in the November 10 Hollywood Prevue, he ran into a buzzsaw named Shared Belief and settled for second, beaten 7 3/4 lengths. Kobe's Back tried Shared Belief again in the 1 1/16-mile CashCall, his first two-turn attempt, only to be hampered when clipping heels on the backstretch.
Ironically, it was his companion Candy Boy who was involved in the incident. Candy Boy went on to finish best of the rest behind Shared Belief, while Kobe's Back never recovered, and Joel Rosario wrapped up on him as he trudged home 10th. A stewards' inquiry ensued, but the original order of finish stood, and Candy Boy kept his second-place performance.
Kobe's Back cut back in trip to regroup Sunday, and things went according to plan. With Rosario back aboard, the 8-5 favorite was content to lope along at the rear. Although Papa Turf blasted to the lead out of the gate, Cherubim, the slight second choice at 8-5, flew up to match strides through splits of :22 3/5 and :45. Grazen's Hope attempted to make it a three-way scrum, but couldn't go their pace and dropped back.
As Cherubim began to master Papa Turf on the far turn, Kobe's Back was already unwinding. He entered the stretch with ever-gaining momentum, and set his sights squarely on Cherubim, who winged six furlongs in 1:09 1/5. Inhaling the longtime leader, Kobe's Back kicked away by 5 1/4 lengths and completed seven furlongs on the fast track in 1:21 4/5.
Cherubim held the runner-up spot by one length. Late-running Rprettyboyfloyd, who had scratched out of a maiden race Saturday in favor of tackling the San Vicente, got up for third. Papa Turf, previously runner-up to the Bob Baffert-trained Indianapolis in the San Pedro, checked in fourth, followed by Roger Rocket and Grazen's Hope.
Kobe's Back rewarded his many loyalists with a win payout of $5.40, and advanced his record to 4-2-1-0, $200,250.
"Last time he clipped heels, and that was a tough race over at Hollywood," Rosario said. "He handled the seven furlongs well today.
"I'll talk to my agent (Ron Anderson), he makes all the calls, all the decisions (on whom I ride) but I like him; today was very impressive and he looked good today."
"I've said all along that he's had three bad starts," owner Lee Searing of C R K Stable said. "He won the first one, got hammered in the second and we never had a chance out in the 12 hole last out. So finally, all the work John has put in and the right rider (has made the difference.) We asked Ron Anderson if Joel could come out here and ride, and it was real nice."
"I just wanted Joel to ride him patiently," Sadler said, "because everybody has us kind of counted out of the route races, except us. I wanted him off the pace a little bit and see if he'd finish up good so we could get him going around two turns next time."
The San Vicente didn't offer points toward the Kentucky Derby, but Sadler indicated that Kobe's Back would now go points-hunting.
"We catch a little bit of an odd flow," the trainer said regarding possible targets. "We're a little bit too quick for the San Felipe (March 8), so we'll probably go with (Hronis Racing's) Kristo in that one, and this horse we'll look at maybe the Rebel (a 1 1/16-mile affair at Oaklawn Park March 15).
"We'll look around. There are a lot of three-year-old races, but we wanted to get a good one at home in good weather first, then we're going to look at a race with (Kentucky Derby) points for him in the next one."
Searing noted that they'd like to keep Kobe's Back and Candy Boy apart. Candy Boy, winner of last Saturday's Robert B. Lewis, is aiming for the April 5 Santa Anita Derby.
"We'll let John decide where he runs next, but we're sure not going to race him and Candy Boy against one another," Searing said. "We'll let John get him back to the barn and decide where to run them next.
"I don't think we have favorites. We bred (Candy Boy) and this horse (Kobe's Back) was just asking to be bought. We buy a lot of two-year-olds but this was a special horse.
"He can go two turns -- even on the gallop-out he just looks like it. Maybe now, with that sitting-back, stalking style, he'll be ready to go two turns."
Bred by Joanne R. Mummert in Kentucky, Kobe's Back first sold for $60,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling, before bringing a windfall at OBS. The Flatter colt is out of the winning Well Decorated mare Well, making him a half-brother to Grade 3-winning sprinter Well Spelled. This female line is also responsible for Grade 2 hero Notation and Grade 3 victor My Creed, and further back, Group 2-winning sprinter Indian King.
As his name implies, Kobe's Back is indeed a tribute to the Lakers star.
"We go to all the Lakers games," Searing said. "I have gone 17 years to watch Kobe (Bryant) play and in my opinion, he's the greatest basketball player I've ever watched.
"We tried to name a horse 'Kobe' but that was registered, but when we added something to it (it worked out.) I kept telling everyone Kobe (the player) is coming back, so when it came time to name the horse I had been saying that a lot. I thought we had to do it."