If trainer Julio Canani keeps winning as easily as he did with Two Step Salsa in the $107,200 Lazaro Barrera Memorial (gr. III) (VIDEO) May 18, it may be quite some time before he shaves that beard he's been growing during the month-old Hollywood Park meeting.
"I'm going to keep the beard and the luck," Canani told TVG as he made his way to the winner's circle after Two Step Salsa triumphed in his graded stakes debut over a field that included the grade I winner Dixie Chatter and grade II victor Salute the Sarge. Canani is winning at a 30% clip at Hollywood so far with six victories from 20 starters, ranking third in the conditioner standings.
Two Step Salsa was ready for action in the seven-furlong Barrera, which is for 3-year-olds, winning by a widening three lengths under some urging from Pedroza in an excellent time of 1:20.66., just off Hollywood's Cushion track record of 1:20.50.
The Everest Stables' homebred Two Step Salsa won for the third time in four starts in his brief career, though things started out rather oddly for the son of Petionville.
Two Step Salsa, breaking from the rail in the field of six, was a bit tardy away from the gate, as was the horse to his immediate outside, Rapidity, who was expected to contest for the lead. That left Salute the Sarge, a late-running sprinter shortening up from a route race a month ago, on the lead for the early portion of the Barrera. That didn't last long, however, as jockey Martin Pedroza hustled Two Step Salsa to the front on the inside leaving the chute.Two Step Salsa took it from there, simply running the field off their feet.
"Coming out of the gate, I clipped heels with (Rapidity), his left leg with my right leg," Pedroza noted afterward. "He kind of sat down for a minute and I had to ask to him to get going. Once I got to the front he was just galloping, just cruising. When I saw (Afleet Ruler) come to me I just chirped to him and he was gone."
Afleet Ruler, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, finished best of the rest, closing from the back of the pack to get second comfortably by 2 1/4 lengths over Dixie Chatter, who clearly needed the race after an absence of more than eight months since winning the Norfolk (gr. I) as a 2-year-old.
The multiple graded winner Salute the Sarge, hoping to get back to his winning ways after a disappointing effort in the Lexington (gr. II) at Keeneland, finished off the board as the 2-1 choice after fading in upper stretch.
Two Step Salsa ran the opening quarter mile in :22.60 and completed the half in a rapid :44.66. But rather than back up to the field, he winner kept putting the pressure on to win without a challenge.
Out of the Seattle Slew mare Two to Waltz, Two Step Salsa won his first two starts -- a maiden debut and a first-level optional allowance race -- at Santa Anita this season. Last time out, Canani gave the dark bay a start on the grass to begin the Hollywood Park meet. Two Step Salsa ran very well to be second in the Harry Henson at six furlongs, 1 1/4 lengths behind Sky Cape.
"Every time that he runs he runs good," Canani said. "I was training him to run long, I worked him seven-eighths at Santa Anita. I think I am going to wait a month to run him.”
The winner's share of $64,320 increased Two Step Salsa's earnings to $139,730.
Sent off as the co-second choice, Two Step Salsa carried 117 pounds to victory and paid $8, $3.60 and $3.20. He topped a $2 exacta of $31.20 with Afleet Ruler, who returned $3.80 and $3.20. Dixie Chatter, ridden in his comeback race by Richard Migliore, was $3.80 to show. Wind's Legacy, Salute the Sarge and Rapidity, and English import making his U.S. bow for trainer Jack Carava, completed the order.
Michael Baze, aboard Salute the Sarge, offered no excuse. "(Two Step Salsa) just kept going along and I think it just broke my horse's heart. My horse was sitting real comfortable, but when they asked the winner, he just re-broke."