It was the wrong lead but the right result for Comma to the Top, who slugged his way to a 1 3/4-length victory while becoming racing's newest millionaire in an off-the-turf edition of the $100,000 Daytona Stakes Dec. 29 at Santa Anita Park.
The gutsy gelding was under pressure the whole way over a wet fast track in the 6 1/2 furlong Daytona, which scratched down from a 12-horse field to five after heavy rainfall pelted Southern California. In spite of constant pushing from Ain't No Other and although he did not change leads after turning for home, Comma to the Top prevailed to get the distance in 1:14.55.
The 4-year-old son of Bwana Charlie also got a new partner in jockey Edwin Maldonado, who took the call from trainer Peter Miller when scheduled rider Corey Nakatani took off his mounts after a spill in the fourth race on the card. Nakatani was not seriously injured in the fall.
"Peter told me since the speed was scratched to go ahead and send him to the lead," said Maldonado, who got his third win on the card. "He told me he usually doesn't switch leads, but not to worry about it."
Jockey Juan Hernandez, aboard the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Ain't No Other, was affixed to Comma to the Top's outside hip almost from the moment the field left the gate. Those two cleared the others by 4 1/2 lengths through a quarter in :21.78, and were still ahead by four while getting the half in :44.16.
Comma to the Top maintained the advantage throughout, with Ain't No Other hard-ridden in pursuit as they turned for home. Tough as nails, the gelding floated out but held sway as Ain't No Other switched paths to the inside and 14-1 shot Clubhouse Ride attempted a rally up the rail through three-quarters in 1:08.25. Neither could get up in time, and in the end, Comma to the Top's all-out class pulled him through.
"I felt I had a ton of horse under me at the end," Maldonado said. "The horse drifted out late, but the middle of the track was the hardest part of the track."
It was Comma to the Top's 11th win from 25 starts, with earnings of $1,027,696 for owners Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, and Kevin Tsujihara.
"It means a lot," Miller said. "This horse is the owners' first horse in partnership with Gary Barber, and they deserve this. They're great guys and I'm really happy for them."
Sent off at odds of 8-5, Comma to the Top returned $5.20, $3.60, and $2.80 as Clubhouse Ride returned $7.40 and $3.40. Ain't No Other paid $3 to show while Capital Account and Wilkinson completed the order of finish. Great Mills, Byrama, Starspangled Heat, Circa'sgoldengear, Guest Star, Red Sun, and Tale of a Champion scratched.
Comma to the Top came off a fourth-place finish behind Smiling Tiger in the Dec. 2 Vernon Underwood Stakes on the all weather track at Betfair Hollywood Park. Among his other stakes scores this season were the Oct. 21 Big Bear Handicap at Santa Anita and the Sept. 5 Pirate's Bounty Stakes at Del Mar. He counts the 2010 CashCall Futurity and Generous Stakes among six victories as a 2-year-old.
Comma to the Top competed on the Triple Crown trail after a runner-up effort by a head to Midnight Interlude in the Santa Anita Derby, but finished 19th in the 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and was sidelined after chipping an ankle.
"Words can't describe a horse like this," Miller said. "He's gone through so much, but he wants to beat you. He's just an iron horse. He's a $22,000 gelding and you wish you had a barnful of them. He makes training easy, he tries hard every time, and he just wants to please. He's a pleasure to work around.
"We'll probably keep him sprinting," the trainer continued. "I think he just might be a little better sprinting right now than he is going long, and probably keep him on the main track."
Bred in Florida by Linda and Richard Thompson out of the Stormy Atlantic mare Maggies Storm, Comma to the Top was purchased by Miller for $22,000 at the 2010 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s spring sale of 2-year-olds in training when consigned by Indian Prairie Ranch.