Charlotte M. Wrather's Cheroot, a 28-1 outsider, squeezed through a narrow opening in the final stages to register a nose victory over Moth Ball in Santa Anita's $98,650 Daytona Handicap on the hillside turf course Feb. 17. Notional, sidelined since last March's second-place finish in the Florida Derby (gr. I), finished third in his comeback effort.

The homebred Cheroot won in his first start over the course for trainer Darrell Vienna. Racing mid-pack in a tangle down the hill for Martin Pedroza in the about 6 1/2-furlong race, Cheroot had to steady with a head of steam and nowhere to go as the field came off the synthetic portion of the turf course to reach the top of the lane. However, a patient Pedroza was able to thread his way into contention in the final furlong.

Pedroza then exploited a slight opening between Moth Ball on the outside and the tiring Tenga Cat at the rail. Cheroot responded gamely to get up in the final head bob over an unlucky Mothball, who was also a big longshot at 16-1 under Michael Baze. Notional, the lukewarm 3-1 favorite in a field of 12, was reserved at the rear of the field until reaching the top of the lane for Garrett Gomez and rallied nicely on the far outside to finish a close third in his turf debut. He was just a neck behind at the wire.

"Across the dirt, I was looking for room because this is a big horse," Pedroza said. "I had plenty of horse and, fortunately, Victor (Espinoza on Stoneside, 10th), whose horse was tiring, gave me just a little room and I had a chance."

Tenga Cat, who took over the lead from Zoning In and Cheroot shortly after the start, carved quick fractions of :21.08 and :43.27. Tenga Cat tired to fourth.

The winner helped to fuel a three-day carryover at Santa Anita, paying $58.80, $25.60, and $10.40. Mothball returned $15.40 and $8.60 while completing a $2 exacta worth $921.20. Notional, last year's San Rafael (gr. II) and Risen Star (gr. III) winner and the 120-pound highweight in the Daytona, was $4.20 to show. The $1 superfecta paid $94,718.20.

Cheroot is a 7-year-old California-bred horse by Smokester out of the Far North mare Triple Connection. The dark bay had not been out since fading to seventh after setting the pace in the California Cup Classic on the Santa Anita Cushion Track Nov. 3. He registered his first victory since Hollywood Park's On Trust Handicap in November 2006. Cheroot has a record of 7-3-7 in 27 starts. The winning purse, $62,700, increased his earnings to $494,501.

(Chart, Equibase)

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