In an emotional win for the barn of the late trainer Bobby Frankel, the Brazilian import Fluke charged between horses in deep stretch to capture his first American stakes race in the $300,000 Citation Handicap (gr. IT) (VIDEO) at Hollywood Park Nov. 27.
Sent off at odds of 9-1, Fluke enjoyed a dream trip under jockey Joe Talamo, saving ground to mid-stretch before angling out to find room between the tiring pacesetter Enriched and the rallying Ever a Friend. After striking the front, Fluke drew off in the final strides for a 1 1/4-length win in the 1 1/16-mile Citation. Trainer Humberton Ascanio, Frankel's assistant for more than three decades, scored the grade I victory for owner Patricia Bozano.
"I'm so happy," Ascanio told TVG while fighting back tears. "I don't want to get mushy (about Frankel), but I'm sure he gave a little push."
In the winner's circle later, he added, "Bobby told me to get him ready. Be positive, he is training good. He was right. The horse was doing good. My job was to continue training. I’m just happy to win for him."
Ascanio held his 15-month old grandson, Jonathan, in the winner’s circle and was joined by his wife, Maureen, and other family members.
"This is very emotional for me," Talamo said. "Bobby's the one who brought me out here (from Louisiana). If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here."
Frankel won a record 17 stakes during the Hollywood Park Turf Festival. The Hall of Fame conditioner died of leukemia Nov. 16.
Ever a Friend finished second in the Citation, with Cowboy Cal running third. Favored Blue Chagall made a strong bid on the final turn while four wide but faded in the homestretch, finishing last of eight. The final time was 1:40.48 over firm going.
Fluke scored his first American stakes victory in the Citation. A grade III winner in his native Brazil in 2008, the 4-year-old son of Wild Event began the year with Frankel at Santa Anita, winning one of two starts before shipping east. In his only other U.S. stakes try Fluke finished a well-beaten fifth in Keeneland's Maker's Mark Mile (gr. IT) in April before relocating to New York.
"Early in the year I saw he won that race and I thought he would be a nice horse at the end of the year," Ascanio said. “He was more rank (early in the year). He is tough to ride in the morning and hard to settle. He (Talamo) did a good job.”
After posting a pair of close runner-up finishes in optional-claiming allowance events at Belmont Park and Saratoga over the summer, Fluke sparkled in his most recent start, a one-mile optional claimer at Belmont Sept. 18 that he won by 3 1/4 lengths. He returned to Southern California in late October and put in four solid timed workouts over Hollywood's Cushion Track prior to his break-out victory in the Citation.
"I watched the replay of his last race and man, he came home in :22," Talamo noted. "I'm not going to say that we knew he was going to win, but we came in with a lot of confidence. He's a real nice horse and I think he's going to go on to do some big things. They weren't really going all that fast, but into the turn I could see some of them were making early moves. In the stretch it was just a matter of finding a seam, and when he found one he really took off."
Ever a Friend and Enriched vied for the early lead with Cowboy Cal tugging his way along in third before Enriched, a 4-year-old half-brother to California star Lava Man, took control and dictated the pace through quarter-mile splits of :23.71, :48.42, and 1:12.14. Enriched continued to show the way into the stretch as Ever a Friend, a three-wide Cowboy Cal and a four-wide Blue Chagall progressed.
Fluke, who broke from the rail, stalked along the inside in fifth and needed room. He found it when Talamo switched out slightly for the drive. The sharp-looking dark bay took control efficiently after exploiting the opening between horses.
Ever a Friend stayed on well for second with Joel Rosario aboard, edging Cowboy Cal and Rafael Bejarano by three-quarters of a length. Proudinsky , a second horse in the field from the former Frankel barn, made a mild move in the stretch and was a neck back in fourth. He was followed by Enriched, Skyrush, Monzante, and the favorite.
Both Rosario and Bejarano said that the early bid from Blue Chagall on the turn forced them to move as well or risk being shut off in the lane.
Winning for the fifth time in 11 tries in his career with three seconds, Fluke earned $180,000 for the victory. That boosts his career total to $308,348.
Bred by Haras Doce Vale, Fluke is out of the Brazilian mare Uff-Uff, by De Quest.
Sent off as the sixth favorite, Fluke carried 113 pounds and paid $20, $7.80, and $4.40, keying a $2 exacta worth $119. The grade I winner Ever a Friend, making his second start off a layoff of more than 17 months for trainer Mike Mitchell, returned $6 and $3.80. Second choice Cowboy Cal, the 120-pound top weight, was $3.20 to show.
Times Gone By and El Gato Malo scratched. The Citation was the first of three grade I turf stakes at Hollywood over the Thanksgiving Weekend.