Favored Ventana, ridden by a riled up Garrett Gomez, outfought Gato Go Win in deep stretch to post an exciting nose victory in the $150,000 Potrero Grande Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO) at Santa Anita Park April 3.
Gomez was involved in an altercation with jockey Victor Espinoza after he felt his rival cut him off and cost him a chance to win the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) aboard Lookin At Lucky two races earlier. He brought Ventana home under vigorous left-handed urging after Gato Go Win had taken the lead in the stretch.
He rode Ventana for the first time for the same connections that manage Lookin At Lucky -- trainer Bob Baffert and owners Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman. It was the first stakes win for the 4-year-old son of Toccet--Full Figure, by Polish Numbers. Ventana had run second in both the Palos Verdes and San Carlos handicaps earlier in the meet.
“We bought him as a 2-year-old and he didn’t pan out," Baffert said of Ventana. "He’s finally coming around now. Garrett Gomez was on his belly there. I’m telling you he’s like riding to keep his job."
Ventana completed the 6 1/2-furlong distance in 1:15.03 on Pro-Ride. Gato Go Win, who engaged Ventana in upper stretch and took the lead mid-stretch for Rafael Bejarano, finished a tough-luck second by three-quarters of a length over E Z's Gentleman.
Eaton's Gift, tracked closely throughout by Ventana, led through early fractions of :22.47 and :44.91 before weakening in the stretch. Ventana and Gotta Go Win battled from there to the wire.
Gomez said Ventana was able to get a bit of a breather going into the far turn when Bejarano fell back a bit on Gotta Go Win.
"When we turned for home (Ventana) started fighting, and Bejarano and I hooked up the last eighth of a mile," Gomez said. "He showed a lot of heart and gameness."
Talking about the earlier incident, Gomez said: “I wasn’t mad or upset. I was just frustrated at the position (Espinoza) put (Lookin At Lucky) in."
Ventana ran his record to 3-4-2 in 14 lifetime starts and has now banked $256,517 with the Potrero Grande winner's share of $90,000. The bay colt was bred in Kentucky by Joe Mulholland Sr., Joe Mulholland Jr., John Mulholland, and Karen Mulholland.
Robert Troeger, trainer of Gato Go Win, was enthused by the 4-year-old's effort. “He ran huge – he showed he belongs," he said. "That was a tough horse he got beat by. What a nice horse. We’ll see how he looks, and we’ll go from there.”
Ventana carried high weight of 120 pounds and paid $5.20, $2.80, and $2.40. Second choice Gato Go Win, who was coming off a head victory in an optional claiming allowance race Jan. 30, returned $3.20 and $3, completing a $15.20 exacta. E Z's Gentleman, also trained by Baffert, paid $3.60 to show.
Kanan Dume scratched.