Charmo stormed down the center of the track from the top of the stretch to nab favored Aragorn by a length in the $330,000 San Francisco Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IIT) on the Golden Gate Fields turf course Saturday.
Southern California invaders went north to take the first three spots in the region's only grade II event on the calendar.
The French-bred Charmo notched his first graded stakes win over a solid field in the SF Mile under jockey Martin Pedroza. Trained by Julio Canani for David Milch, the son of Charnwood Forest won for the fourth time in six starts in the United States since transferring from his native country last August. Charmo was winless in 16 starts in Europe.
"He's got a helluva turn of foot," Pedroza said. "When I put him in the clear, he was like Silky Sullivan."
The last five runnings of the San Francisco Mile have been at Bay Meadows in San Mateo. Coincidentally, Canani also won this race the last time it was at the Albany track with Ladies Din in 2000. Canani's other Mile winners were Tuzla (1999), Colway Rally (1990), and Patchy Groundfog (1998).
Breaking from the inside post in a field of eight, the gray horse Charmo was taken back to lag early by Pedroza. Multiple grade I winner Sweet Return was hustled to the lead by Frank Alvarado, crossing over from the outside to set a realistic pace while getting pressure from the 36-1 outsider Romeo Plus.
With Aragorn settled in third along the inside, Sweet Return showed the way leaving the far turn but came off the rail at the head of the stretch, allowing Aragorn and Patrick Valenzuela to skip through and easily get the lead. With Aragorn edging away to a short advantage in mid-stretch, Charmo, still sixth with a quarter-mile to go, launched an explosive bid while four wide for Pedroza and swept to the front. Aragorn, along the inside, fought back once hooked but failed to match the winner.
"For me, the key was to save ground and then go wide on the last turn - and that's what I did," said Pedroza. "When Patrick got through on the fence, I wasn't panicking. I never cocked my stick."
Valenzuela tipped his hat to Charmo.
"When the rail opened up, I shot through there," said Valenzuela. "The other horse was just too much. I had the best of trips and still couldn't come up a winner."
The final time of 1:34 1/5 was four-fifths of a second off the track mark and the second-fastest clocking for the San Francisco Mile in 57 runnings.
Place Cowboy, ridden by David Flores, followed Aragorn's path along the inside to threaten in the stretch before flattening out in the final furlong and finishing third, two lengths behind Charmo.
It was 1 1/2 lengths back to Adreamisborn, who nosed Ulistnintome for fourth, with Sweet Return and Hendrix each a head farther back. Romeo Plus trailed the field. Every starter carried 122 pounds.
Charmo ran sixth but lost by only a length in the Frank Kilroe Mile Handicap (gr. IT) at Santa Anita in his last start March 4, when Aragorn finished second behind Milk It Mick.
"He hated the wet ground last time at Santa Anita, and he was six-wide the whole way," said Canani. "He's a very nice horse. Martin never had to hit him, and he lost a lot of ground on the far turn today. I really like this horse."
Sweet Return, who won both the Eddie Read (gr. IT) and Charley Whittingham (gr. IT) handicaps last summer, set fractions of :23 3/5, :47 1/5 and 1:11 before slackening in the drive in his second start in nearly seven months.
The victory was worth $165,000 for the television producer Milch. Charmo improved his career mark to 4-3-5 in 22 starts with earnings of $358,727.
The second choice, Charmo paid $6.80, $3.40, and $3. The Irish-bred Aragorn, last year's Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT) winner who has been second in each of his other three starts in the U.S. for trainer Neil Drysdale since coming over from the United Kingdom last fall, returned $2.80 and $2.40. Place Cowboy, another Irish bred trained by James Cassidy, was $5.80 to show.