Favored T.H. Approval and jockey Alex Solis had the opposition in the $159,700 Sunset Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) at their mercy Sunday, coming off the pace to register a 1 1/2-length victory as the 2006 Hollywood Park spring/summer meeting ended.
With plenty of speed signed on for the 1 1/2-mile Sunset on turf, Solis took a patient approach, rallying T.H. Approval on the outside in the stretch to open a clear advantage in deep stretch at odds of 6-5. The final time was a solid 2:26 3/5.
T.H. Approval, a 5-year-old son of With Approval
carried high weight of 118 pounds.
The Brazilian-bred Molengao, ridden by meet champion Victor Espinoza, also turned in an impressive closing effort to finish second, well clear of the pacesetting Wild Buddy, who won a three-horse photo for third with Leprechaun Kid (fourth) and Mighty Mysterious (fifth).
Wild Buddy didn't get the anticipated pace pressure from Sam Forli and Leprechaun Kid, making his first start since the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT), but the speedster skipped along anyway under Jon Court, opening up on the field by as much as seven lengths after fractions of :24 2/5, :48 3/5 and 1:12 4/5. As the field came off the third and final turn, T.H. Approval ranged up quickly and soon took command. Only Molengao had a chance, but T.H. Approval had too much of an advantage to overcome.
"I wasn't really worried (about Wild Buddy's large uncontested lead), my horse was really the classiest one in the field, and he proved it today," Solis said. "I just sat back on him, then at the half-mile pole I asked him to start going, and he came running real strong. Took the lead at the eighth pole, and it was pretty much over after that."
Trained by Eduardo Inda for owner Tadahiro Hotehama, T.H. Approval closed out the Santa Anita season with a victory in the San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap (gr. IIT). He became the first to win both of those races in the same season since Marlin in 1997. In his only start between, T.H. Approval ran seventh, nearly six lengths behind the winning Lava Man, in the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT).
"I could see Alex got him to relax," Inda said. "He's a little stronger, a better horse than last year." T.H. Approval finished in a dead heat for second with Runaway Dancer in the 2005 Sunset.
T.H. Approval improved to 4-2-0 in nine starts on the Hollywood Park turf. Overall, he has six wins in 24 tries with earnings of $663,708.
He paid $4.60, $2.80, and $2.40. Molengao returned $4.40 and $2.80. Wild Buddy, 3 1/4 lengths behind the runner-up, was $2.80 to show.
A head behind was Leprechaun Kid, separated by a nose over Mighty Mysterious. Runaway Dancer, Sam Forli, Mino Ona and Sultry Bard completed the order.