Weewinnin, emerging at the rail in the stretch, ran away from his rivals to win the $250,000 California Cup Turf Classic at 21-1 odds by 2 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita Park Jan. 25 (VIDEO).
In an earlier race on the turf on the Sunshine Millions/California Cup card for state-breds, Ciao Bella Luna outlasted Marks Mine by half a length in the $125,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf Sprint (VIDEO).
Trained by Brian Koriner for a racing partnership that includes E-Racing.Com, Jill Gray, Dr. William T. Gray, and Janet Lyons, Weewinnin was making just his second start in the past year. The 4-year-old Comic Strip gelding tuned up for this with a runner-up effort in a first-level allowance Dec. 21, a six-furlong turf sprint at Betfair Hollywood Park Dec. 21. He had been working well over Hollywood's Cushion Track since then.
The Grays bred the winner, who is out of the Roman Dancer mare Honoree Lady.
"This horse has had his issues and Brian (Koriner) has been very patient with him," said co-owner Jeremy Peskoff, who noted the long odds on Weewinnin. "We're very fortunate. I had him at the windows today!"
Ridden by Joe Talamo, Weewinnin was timed in 1:46 flat for 1 1/8 miles on firm turf while paying $44.80, $22, and $10.40 across the board. Stoney Fleece rallied for second with Victor Espinoza aboard, paying $11.40 and $6.40 and completing a $530 exacta. Jules Journey and Gary Stevens were third, paying $4.20. Summer Hit, the 6-5 favorite, gave way after setting a lively pace (:23.45, :46.88, 1:10.28) and finished ninth.
Weewinnin was in stalking position while racing third or fourth for Talamo before taking command under left-handed urging in the lane.
"I had a perfect trip." Talamo said. "I was able to sit right behind a couple of horses and I was hoping if Summer Hit got tired he would move off the rail a bit and it worked out. When he got tired at the quarter pole he moved off the rail about a length. I was able to shoot right through there. My horse just kept opening up and he ran a great race."
Purchased following a debut maiden claiming win at Golden Gate Fields in June 2012, he won for the third time in just six starts while extending his earnings to $294,380. He captured the King Glorious Stakes for state-breds in December 2012 at Hollywood.
In the Filly and Mare Turf Sprint on the hillside course, Ciao Bella Luna pressed pacesetter Marks Mine in second all the way around before putting her head in front at the furlong mark and prevailing gamely over Marks Mine, with Tribal Spy just a head farther back in third.
Breaking from the far outside post in the field of 11, 11-2 shot Ciao Bella Luna was ridden to victory by Kent Desormeaux for Rockingham Ranch and trainer Peter Miller. The final time for the about 6 1/2-furlong distance on firm ground was 1:12.81 following quarter mile splits of :22.45 and :44.59.
By the leading California sire Tribal Rule—making the Kentucky-bred eligible for the Cal-bred event—Ciao Bella Luna was bred by Dennis and Carol Yokum out of the Conquistador Cielo mare Shadow of the Moon.
Ciao Bella Luna's fourth lifetime win in 12 races boosted her earnings to $262,110. The 4-year-old bay filly won the Beaumont Stakes (gr. II) last April on the Polytrack at Keeneland going seven furlongs. She was fifth after a slow start in the Monrovia Stakes (gr. IIT) in her most recent start Jan. 5 on the hillside course.
"I thought we would be way back early," said Desormeaux. "She broke horrible her last out so the only thing I did differently was I asked her to leave there better. She carried me the rest of the way. She was in the bridle, just really floating along."
"We bought her to be a synthetic (surface) horse and we thought maybe the turf would suit her," said Miller, whose owner purchased her following a fourth-place finish in the Raven Run (gr. II) at Keeneland Oct. 19. "She ran well last time when we prepped in the Monrovia. This was the logical spot to come back and she ran super. Kent rode her great."
Sent off as the third choice, the winner paid $13, $6.40, and $4.80 while carrying 118 pounds. Marks Mine, the 123-pound topweight under Frank Alvarado, paid $10.40 and $6.40 and was part of a $140 exacta. Tribal Spy, with Irving Orosco up, returned $7.60. Unusual Hottie, the slight 3-1 favorite, finished fourth.