Pacific Ocean, bursting to the lead from his rail post, overpowered his rivals for the first graded stakes tally of his career in the Vernon O. Underwood (gr. III) at Hollywood Park Nov. 26 (VIDEO).
The robust 4-year-old Ghostzapper gelding was was making his first start for trainer Mike Mitchell.
JMJ Racing Stable's Pacific Ocean, who previously raced for trainer Wayne Catalano, stepped the six-furlong Underwood in a lively 1:08.48 over the Cushion Track to defeat the closing Irrefutable by 2 1/4 lengths.
Irrefutable, runner-up in the Ancient Title Stakes (gr. I) last month for trainer Bob Baffert, tied up and collapsed after being unsaddled and was removed from the track by van. The track veterinarian reported to stewards that the 5-year-old died, according to a Hollywood Park spokesman. A cause had not been determined.
"He was heading back (to the barn) and everything looked OK," Baffert said. "He ran great. After he was unsaddled, he took about 10 steps. We thought he was having a heat stroke. He must have had a heart attack."
It has been a big week for Mitchell, who reached a significant milestone when he passed Charlie Whittingham with his 860th win at Hollywood Park Nov. 24. That moved the veteran conditioner into second place all-time at the Inglewood, Calif., track. Bobby Frankel leads all trainers with 952 wins at Hollywood.
Swordlestown Stud bred Pacific Ocean in Kentucky. The chestnut sold for $300,000 as a Keeneland September yearling in 2008. Previously owned by Gary and Mary West, bloodstock agent Rudy Delguidice organized the private purchase of Pacific Ocean for Dennis Narlinger and his son, Mike, who run as JMJ.
Pacific Ocean, sent off at odds of 7-1, had not been to the post since finishing seventh in the Bold Venture Stakes at Woodbine July 20.
Baffert, looking for his first Underwood win since 1992, entered three: Irrefutable, Quiet Invader, and grade I winner Euroears, the 8-5 favorite in the field of nine with Rafael Bejarano aboard.
Riding him for the first time, Joel Rosario gunned Pacific Ocean to the front at the outset of the Underwood and they sped the opening quarter-mile in :21.52, the half in :43.78. Quiet Invader, about a length away, prompted the pace with Comma to the Top, in his first start since the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), stalking those two. Euroears failed to break with the leaders from the outside and raced mid-pack while well off the rail.
Pacific Ocean kicked away from Quiet Invader in the lane and was in command by 2 1/2 lengths as he reached the eighth pole in :55.66. He finished well under left-handed urging from Rosario.
Rosario said he planned to take Pacific Ocean back at the start. "But he broke so well, I just let him go because I knew he could run on the lead, too," he said. "Even though he was going fast, he was pretty relaxed. I tried to let him get away on the turn and he responded."
Mitchell admitted he didn't know what to expect from the winner after he blew out five furlongs in a faster-than-expected :58 3/5 Nov. 12 over the Cushion Track.
"It's a good thing I didn't talk to Joel (beforehand) because I would have said just sit there and let everybody go," Mitchell said. "And here he's on the lead. That's why if you don't know anything, you don't say anything."
Irrefutable, advancing at the rail with M One Rifle and Euroears on the outside, all came on late but they were running for second. Irrefutable, ridden by Mike Smith, edged M One Rifle and Joe Talamo for the runner-up spot by a half-length, with Euroears a neck farther back in fourth.
The lightly-race Pacific Ocean won for the fourth time in six starts, all on synthetic tracks. In his only prior graded stakes appearance, Pacific Ocean ran second behind Workin for Hops in the one-mile Hanshin Cup Handicap (gr. III) at Arlington Park May 21. He began his career with three consecutive wins at Arlington and Keeneland.
Pacific Ocean, who is out of the Unbridled mare Miss Salsa, has earned $153,199.
Sent off as the fifth choice, Pacific Ocean carried 118 pounds and paid $16.80, $8.60, $6. Irrefutable returned $8.20 and $5. The $2 exacta was worth $114.20. M One Rifle was $4.20 to show.
Euroears was followed by Quiet Invader, Carbonite, Canonize, Shediak, and Comma to the Top.