After Misty Ocean scored a 5 1/2-length win in a minor stakes at Golden Gate Fields last month, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer had a much more ambitious spot in mind for his newly converted turf runner. His hunch proved correct when the 3-year-old daughter of Stormy Atlantic went gate to wire to win the $173,250 Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) at Hollywood Park June 7.
Coming off back-to-back turf wins when routing for the Northern California-based Hollendorfer, Misty Ocean caught a field of sprinters and milers in the 1 1/8-mile Honeymoon, which was scratched down to a field of six. After repelling a mid-stretch challenge from Sweeter Still, Misty Ocean pulled away briefly in the final furlong and held off the late closing Bel Air Sizzle by three-quarters of a length to register a slight upset. The final time was a pedestrian 1:47.56 on firm going.
Joel Rosario rode Jim Plemmons' Kentucky homebred to her third consecutive win. The Honeymoon is a major leading prep race for the American Oaks (gr. IT) and Hollendorfer said after the race that he hoped Misty Ocean would receive an invitation to the 1 1/4-mile event for 3-year-old fillies.
Misty Ocean was rank early, jetting away to a sizeable early advantage and opening up by as much as five lengths on the backstretch while traveling at a good clip -- :23.75 for the first quarter-mile, :47.77 for the half and 1:11.95 for six furlongs. Sweeter Still and 17-10 favorite Missit appeared comfortable in stalking position, but it was the Irish-bred Sweeter Still, ridden by Martin Garcia, who came to put the pressure on as the leaders straightened for the home stretch.
Sweeter Still, on the outside, dueled on even terms in upper stretch for a bit, but Misty Ocean, looking fresh as a daisy, re-broke leaving the eighth pole.
"When I asked her to run at the quarter pole, (Sweeter Still) came up to us and my horse responded," Rosario said. "She's a nice filly."
Bel Air Sizzle, who had a terrible break from her outside post, rallied strongly for Rafael Bejarano to beat out Sweeter Still for second by three parts of alength while just short of catching the winner. Bel Air Sizzle was the only filly in the race to win at nine furlongs, breaking her maiden at that distance at Santa Anita in March.
"She broke real slow," Bejarano said. "I knew my horse likes to come from behind but I had to use her more than I wanted to get into position. I let her get comfortable and she really finished."
Missit, winner of the Providencia Stakes (gr.IIT) at Santa Anita in her U.S. debut April 5 for trainer Ben Cecil, finished fourth.
"We didn’t know if Jeff Mullins’ horse (Sweeter Still) would go to the lead, so I told Joel to watch that," Hollendorfer said. "If he could make the lead in easy fashion, (I told him) to go out on the front end. But I was worried (when she was rank)."
Misty Ocean has now won three of four starts on grass, her victories coming at one mile, 1 1/16 miles and nine furlongs.
"The turf obviously helped her out," Hollendorfer said. "We need to work with her to help get her to relax more in the race. I think she has a lot of talent. I’m very pleased to have her."
She earned $111,750 for the win. Overall, she has four victories in 10 lifetime starts and banked $191,462.
Misty Ocean is out of the Lypheor mare Shocking Sport.
"The goal all along was putting her on turf," Hollendorfer said. "Sprinting, she didn’t do so well. I asked (Plemmons) for one more chance sprinting, then put her on turf. Fortunately, it worked. Her first turf race, she tried to run off. She was just unmanageable. At least, we have her more under control now."
Sent off as the fourth choice, Misty Ocean paid $11.60, $4.60 and $4.40, topping a $2 exacta worth $67.20. Bel Air Sizzle returned $4.60 and $3.20. Sweeter Still was $3.80 to show.
Missit was followed by Magical Fantasy and Gorgeous Goose. Divine Legacy, Lethal Heat and Fire n' Brimstone scratched.(Chart, Equibase)