Bushwacker Whips Up Underwood Upset
Photo: Benoit
Bushwacker and Joe Talamo take the Vernon O. Underwood.
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Bushwacker has only one way of going so when the 5-year-old horse took command in the $105,800 Vernon O. Underwood (gr. III) (VIDEO) soon after the start Dec. 2, his four Hollywood Park rivals did not appear to be concerned. They should have been.

Bill Currin and Alvin Eisman's Bushwacker enjoyed a two-length advantage in the lane for jockey Joe Talamo and held on in spite of drifting out late to defeat grade I winner In Summation by three-quarters of length length in the six-furlong test on Cushion Track. Greg's Gold, the even-money favorite, ran on well for Victor Espinoza but finished third, a neck farther behind.

It was the first stakes win in the career of Bushwacker, who showed promise as a 2-year-old but had yet to deliver for Currin, who also trains the Florida-bred son of Outflanker--Musical Score, by Romantic Lead.

“I thought he was clearly the best horse in the race," Said Currin, who mentioned the Sunshine Millions Sprint as a likely next race for Bushwacker. "My prediction was if he could get a comfortable early quarter-mile they would have to catch me, and they couldn’t catch me.”

In spite of right-handed whipping by Talamo, Bushwacker drifted out significantly in the final furlong. Corey Nakatani, aboard In Summation, was forced to steady his mount in the final yards or the result would have been much closer.

"The problem is that he was herding my horse," Nakatani complained. "Every time I got close to him, he'd just float out and my horse would have to check himself. You're not allowed to herd. Five or six strides to the wire I couldn't even ride him because he kept floating my horse out. Talamo also hit my horse with the whip at about the sixteenth pole. I guess the stewards didn't see it that way."

The defeat snapped a three-race winning streak for the synthetic track specialist In Summation, who had shipped west for trainer Christophe Clement this summer to win the Bing Crosby Handicap (gr. I) by a nose over Greg's Gold on Del Mar's Polytrack. In Summation carried 124 pounds in the Underwood and Greg's Gold packed 126. That was eight more than Bushwacker, who earned $65,800 for the victory.

Bushwacker won the break and soon held a 2 1/2-length advantage over Double Action and In Summation while clipping off fast fractions of :22 and :44. After Double Action fell back at the quarter pole, In Summation drew closer and Greg's Gold made his bid along the inside. But at the top of the lane, Bushwacker edged away, then had just enough left to win in a time of 1:08.47.

Wins have not been plentiful in the career of Bushwacker, who scored for the fifth time in 23 lifetime starts and increased his earnings to $285,840. The bay woke up in his previous start, a front-running win at 6 1/2 furlongs over allowance optional claiming rivals on the Hollywood course Nov. 10.

"The first time I rode him (July 5 at Hollywood), he bled real bad," Talamo said. "Mr. Currin kept working with him and every single start after that he's improved. Then last time out he ran so big, and the same thing today. 

"Believe it or not, I really thought I could make an easy lead," the rider added. "On paper there didn't look like there was too much speed, so I really liked our chances today. At the sixteenth pole, he came out a little, but didn't make any contact. He tends to do that every race, I don't know why. I guess it's just him."

As a 2-year-old Bushwacker ran second to eventual Eclipse champion Declan's Moon in the Hollywood Prevue (gr. III).

Starship Stables bred the winner, who paid $14, $5.80 and $2.60. In Summation, making his first start since winning the Arlington Sprint Handicap Aug. 25, returned $3.60 and $2.10. Greg's Gold, coming off an eighth-place finish in the TVG Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) at sloppy Monmouth Park, was $2.10 to show. Council Member and Double Action trailed. Quinton's Fleet scratched.

(Chart, Equibase)

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