Trainer Bruce Headley left his big gun, Kona Gold, in the barn for Saturday's $200,000 Ancient Title Handicap (gr. I) at Santa Anita, but it didn't keep him out of the winner's circle.
His 6-year-old mare, Kalookan Queen, got a dream run through a crowded stretch with jockey Alex Solis and registered a slight upset in the West Coast's major prep for the Breeders' Cup Sprint Oct. 26 at Arlington Park. She defeated fast-closing Crafty C.T. by about a half-length in a rapid 1:08.26.
Concerned about the short time between the Ancient Title and the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gt. I), Headley has said he plans to bring his sprinting star Kona Gold up to the Oct. 26 BC Sprint with workouts.
This was the second win for Louis A. Asistio's Kalookan Queen over males this year – she won the Portrero Grande (gr. II) at Santa Anita March 30 – and her fourth win in seven starts in 2002.
"No chance that she'll go to the Breeders' Cup (Sprint)," said Headly about Kalookan Queen. "We'll just wait and pick our spots. It's hard to run her back (in the Sprint) in 20 days after she just ran her guts out. This was no easy race and it's hard to run back-to-back like this. I think that's what knocked my horse (Kona Gold) out last year, running his guts out with all that weight (127 pounds and second in the Ancient Title to Swept Overboard) in defeat tailed him off. Hopefully, I can bring him (to the Breeders' Cup) fresh."
Kalookan Queen is the first filly or mare to win the Ancent Title since Track Girl did it in 1995.
Starting on the outside in a field of six, Solis kept the daughter of Lost Code reserved behind a fast pace duel set by Rio Oro and Explicit and outside of Crafty C.T.
As Solis steered Kalookan Queen around the tiring leaders, Crafty C.T. encountered some traffic trouble. By the time Patrick Valenzuela got Crafty C.T. into the clear in mid-stretch, Kalookan Queen had opened a two-length lead and wasn't going to be caught.
"She broke alertly, and I got my position right away," said Solis. "I was very happy to see Explicit go with Rio Oro. After that, I just had to be patient. I got a little lucky around the turn, I had to move a little bit to keep her in there because I still had a lot of horse. But then, she flew home."
Valenzuela wasn't so lucky, he admitted, but added, "For being stuck on the inside, and having nowhere to go until the eighth pole, (Crafty C.T.) ran a great race."
"He kind of got pinched off there in the lane and (Valenzuela) had to take a right turn and come outside," said Crafty C.T.'s trainer, Howard Zucker. "You could see he was coming back at the wire. He certainly has enough try in him for five horses."
As for the Breeders' Cup, he said: "We'll keep the options open. We'll see how he comes out of this. It looks like he took it great. He's jogging around out here like he never got a chance to run. He doesn't really need to be bottled up like that waiting behind horses. He might have a lot left. If he does, we'll go."
Favored (9-10) Swept Overboard, making his first start since winning the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont May 27, found room for his big stretch run after racing from far back with jockey Corey Nakatani, but flattened out in the stretch and finishing fourth.
"The track is playing speed today, I think, and they went fast," said Nakatani. "I was going to sit there and make one run - but I rode him to win the race instead of sitting there and saving him to make the one run like maybe I should have. I wanted him to run his race. He was doing everything right; he should move up off this race."
Trainer Craig Dollase said Swept Overboard is still under consideration for the B.C. sprint.
"He flattened out a bit when it came to running. But if he comes out of it good, we'll go on to the next stage."
Kalookan Queen won for the 11th time in 24 career starts, and the $120,000 first-pace purse pushed her career earnings to just over the $1 million mark.
Sent off at 9-2, Kalookan Queen paid $11, $4.60 and $3.60. Crafty C.T. returned $4.60 and $4.20. Mellow Fellow's show price was $4.60.