Though he appeared to be the lone speed in the field of nine, fans let Well Armed, a 5-year-old Tiznow gelding, go at odds of 14-1 in the 1 1/8-mile Cushion Track grab bag.
Breaking from the far outside, Well Armed got to the lead along the inside heading into the clubhouse turn and was able to dictate the race through moderate fractions of :23.79, :47.29 and 1:11.35. Well Armed opened up by four lengths in the stretch and needed every step of that to hold off the flying Heatseeker. The latter charged late down the middle of the track for jockey Rafael Bejarano, who won a pair of grade I races on the program.
“Nobody can out-quick this horse," Gryder said. "This is the kind of horse who can out-gallop ‘em to the lead. He relaxed great today. I let the reins dangle until we got to the far turn. Inside the eighth pole, I could hear (Heatseeker) coming on the outside, but my horse was still running. At the sixteenth pole, I didn’t think it was going to be as close as it was.”
“I thought for a moment there that he was going to get up in time, but he started lugging in, and I couldn’t ride him as comfortably as I would have liked during the last part," Bejarano said of Heatseeker, who won the Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park in December. "I had to keep correcting to keep the horse straight. I just needed one more jump to win.”
Favored Awesome Gem, never out of the money in six starts on synthetic racing surfaces, finished third under David Flores, 1 1/2 lengths behind. The winning time was 1:47.73.
Well Armed began his 2008 campaign with a pacesetting runner-up finish behind Zappa in the 1 1/16-mile San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II) Jan. 12, his first start in two months for trainer Eoin Harty. The bay was just sharp enough this time to get the job done over the tracking Heatseeker, who rallied impressively
“That’s his style, to be in front, but I felt pretty confident, actually (through the stretch run)," Harty said. "It got a little closer than I thought at the end, though. The last part of the race my voice was getting a little sore, but I had total confidence in him.”
Harty said he would consider the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) on March 1 and the $6 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) on March 29 for Well Armed’s next race.
Well Armed has prior experience in Dubai, winning one of three starts there as a 3-year-old for trainer Clive Brittain before going to the sidelines for 18 months. He returned to action in Southern California for Harty last October and has won two of four tries since, all on synthetic tracks. Well Armed began his career in Great Britain for WinStar owners Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt of Versailles, Ky.
The victory, worth $150,000, increased Well Armed's earnings to $250,803 with a record of 4-2-0 in 15 starts. The winner is out of Well Dressed, by Notebook.
Well Armed paid $30.20, $12, and $5.40. Heatseeker, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, returned $5.80 and $3.20, completing a $2 exacta worth $199.80. Awesome Gem, making his first start for Craig Dollase since a third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic Powered by Dodge (gr. I) Oct. 27, was $2.80 to show.
Big Booster, Student Council, Racketeer, Zappa, Rathor, and second choice Sweetnorthernsaint completed the order.