The 33-1 shot Moth Ball registered his first win in 14 United States starts when he dug in tenaciously in the stretch to defeat Apalachee Tiger in the $100,000 Morvich Handicap (gr. IIIT) on Santa Anita's hillside turf course Sunday.
The British-bred 4-year-old Royal Applause gelding helped provide a memorable closing day of the 2006 Oak Tree meeting, both for the fans and owners Deron Pearson and James Cassidy, who also trains him. Moth Ball's last victory came in the Rockingham Stakes at York in October 2004. The time for the about 6 1/2-furlong distance was an outstanding 1:11 3/5, three ticks off the track record.
He returned $69.80, $38.40 and $15.60 to his backers.
Given a patient ride just off the inside by 19-year-old Michael Baze, the stalking Moth Ball exploited an opening at the fence as they straightened away the bend to get a short lead just past the eighth pole. The pacesetter Apalachee Tiger dueled through eye-popping fractions of :21 1/5 and :43 coming down the hill but drifted out a bit coming into the stretch under Jorge Chavez. He wasn't finished, however, and fought back on the outside before succumbing by a neck.
"Once he got inside and (Apalache Tiger) kept heading him, he wasn't going to let the other horse by," said Baze, who earned his second lifetime graded stakes win. He rode Symphony Sid to victory in Oak Tree's Carleton F. Burke Handicap (gr. IIIT) eight days ago.
It was a half-length back to Osidy, who was fanned out as they came off the turn but re-rallied strongly under Victor Espinoza to edge Jungle Prince by a neck for third.
"I looked at the race and most of the speed in here was miler speed," said Cassidy. "I told (Baze), 'Don't go to the lead because he'll get rank.' But trust me, this was all rider."
Rebel Rebel, the 2-1 choice under Alex Solis, trailed in the field of nine most of the way.
Mothball, coming off an eighth-place finish in Santa Anita's one-mile War Chant Oct. 9, won for the fourth time in 22 starts and bumped his earnings to $166,490. His win Sunday was his first in six tries on the Santa Anita turf.
Baze, who rode him for the first time in the War Chant, said, "A couple horses went out and went pretty quick and I just stayed on the rail the whole way. It opened up on the dirt like it usually does and I shot through there."
Apalachee Tiger, who had won his only previous start on the course for trainer John Sadler, returned $10.60 and $6.80 in his graded stakes debut. Osidy, won won the Blue Jay Way over the course for Richard Mandella in his last start, was $4.60 to show.
After Jungle Prince came Houseofroyalhearts, Buckland Manor, Margaritalosflores, Rebel Rebel and Railroad. Captain Kurt and Terroplane scratched.