Pure as Gold, claimed for $100,000 in his last start, paid an immediate dividend for owner La Canada Stables and trainer Jack Carava when he upset the field in Sunday's $300,000 Bing Crosby Handicap (gr. I) at Del Mar.
At odds of 23-1 the longest shot in the field of six, the Washington-bred Pure as Gold survived an objection from Alex Solis, aboard the 4/5 favorite Bordonaro, alleging jockey Jon Court had struck Bordonaro across the head with his whip in upper stretch.
Pure as Gold, a 4-year-old chestnut gelding by Stolen Gold, ran the six furlongs in 1:08 3/5 to defeat Bordonaro, ranked by many as the top sprinter in the nation after four straight dominating wins, by a half-length. The fast closing Battle Won, ridden by Victor Espinoza, was a head back in third.
"I'm not sure, even now," Court said of the whip incident. "I got a call. I think it was the right call, but I can't be sure. Tell you the truth, if Alex says I hit his horse, I don't doubt he believes it. And I might have. I never felt my whip hit him, but I'm still not sure. But I know that sometimes horses shy from the sight of the whip."
The race did not unfold as expected when Carthage, a front-running winner of five consecutive races, fell back from his outside post. Premium Saltine peeled to the early lead with Bordonaro pressing him on the outside and Pure as Gold settling on the inside through fractions of :21 3/5 and :44.
"Our original plan, what Jack and I talked about, was to let the speed go then try to come around them at the end," Court said. "Wasn't that way at all. You never know with this game."
On the turn, Pure as Gold slipped through on the rail to challenge, seizing the lead from Premium Saltine as they straightened away for the stretch. Bordonaro immediately tackled Pure as Gold, who came off the rail a bit. In close quarters, Court reached back to give Pure as Gold a right-handed whack, causing Bordonaro to throw his head. Pure as Gold surged onward to lead by a little more than a length. Bordonaro fought back, however, and was coming on again as they approached the wire.
"It wasn't a matter of I thought (Court) might have hit my horse, I was sure he hit my horse," Solis said. "I wouldn't have claimed foul otherwise. I know he did. I also know that it was nobody's fault. Jon didn't do that on purpose. But my horse was intimidated by what happened. No doubt about that."
Stewards took a long look at the objection before deciding that videotape of the foul claim was inconclusive.
Carava, who won his first grade I race, said he was thrilled for the owner of Pure as Gold, Ron Valenta.
"It's been a long time coming for him," he said.
"They were in a little tight, but the stewards let them play a little bit today and we're happy with the decision," Carava added. "It was not an intentional thing and we were just hoping the stewards would see it that way. The horse was fighting every step of the way and we don't know if it would have made that much difference in the first place. The horse gutted it out."
Pure as Gold carried 113 pounds, seven less than the high weight Bordonaro.
A claiming horse for most of his career, Pure as Gold won the San Simeon Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the Santa Anita hillside turf course in April, but had yet to win a stakes race on dirt prior to the Bing Crosby. He was claimed from Doug O'Neill in his last start, an optional allowance race at Hollywood Park June 14, in which he finished second, 2 1/2 lengths behind Premium Saltine.
The $180,000 winner's share pushed his lifetime earnings to $401,444 with seven wins in 17 starts.
Pure as Gold paid $48.20, $9.60, and $3.80. Bordonaro returned $3 and $2.40 and completed a $150 exacta. Battle Won, the 3-1 second choice, was $2.60 to show.
Espinoza said turning for home, he thought he had the race won on Battle Won, who closed stoutly.
"He gave me a great try, but it (the race) was too short for him," Espinoza said. "If it was 6 1/2 (furlongs), we win it for sure."
It was 8 3/4 lengths back to Trickey Trevor, followed by Carthage and Premium Saltine.
"He was spinning his wheels out there," rider Dennis Carr said of Carthage. "It wasn't that he didn't want to do it, he was trying plenty hard. But he just couldn't handle the track."