Rail-skimming Pure as Gold slipped through an opening on the inside for jockey Patrick Valenzuela to gain the lead in mid-stretch and coasted to a 1 3/4-length upset in the $109,400 San Simeon Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the Santa Anita hillside turf course Saturday.
Trained by Doug O'Neill, who also won the Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. IIT) on the Santa Anita lawn Saturday with Sharp Lisa, the 4-year-old Stolen Gold gelding completed the about 6 1/2-furlong distance in 1:12 2/5. It was the third straight win for the twice-claimed Washington-bred chestnut making his first-ever graded stakes start for owners Steve Keh, Heriberto Lopez, and Bob Richmond. The owners claimed the winner for $50,000 at Santa Anita Feb. 4.
O'Neill clinched the Santa Anita training title with his victory.
"It's a huge honor," he said. "I have to pinch myself to think we actually won the title here. I'm so lucky to be surrounded by so many great people, starting with (assistant trainer) Leandro (Mora) and a lot of people I don't have enough time to name. It's a great team."
Saint Buddy, ridden by David Cohen, split foes in deep stretch to gain second by a neck over the 11-10 favorite Siren Lure, the downhill specialst who was going for his fourth straight win and third over the course for trainer Art Sherman.
The pacesetters, Moth Ball and Seattle Buddy, were both finished after posting fractions of :21 4/5 and :44, bringing up the rear of the eight-horse field.
Breaking from the rail, Pure as Gold stalked the early leaders near mid-pack as Valenzuela bided his time looking for an opportunity that presented itself when Seattle Buddy came off the hedge at the head of the stretch.
"When we crossed the dirt, the leader drifted out and we got through," Valenzuela noted. "He just took off and got the job done."
Saint Buddy, too, needed room in the stretch but was too far behind the winner to threaten in the final stages. Siren Lure also had to swing wide for the stretch run and just missed the place spot.
Then came Margaritalosflores, We All Love Aleyna, Grafton, Moth Ball, and Seattle Buddy.
The fifth choice in the field, Pure as Gold improved his lifetime record to 6-1-1 in 14 starts and paid $17.80, $8.80, and $3.60. Saint Buddy, ridden by Jon Court, returned $8.20 and $4.20. Siren Lure, with Alex Solis aboard, was $2.80 to show.
Pure as Gold, who won for the third time in four starts (with one second) on the Santa Anita turf, earned $65,640 to boost his bankroll to $204,444.
"We knew he loved the course and Patrick commented ... that, on form, it looked like he would want to come from off the pace," O'Neill said. "He got him to relax, and he was going to go out(side) because he knew he had horse but, when that horse on the lead (Moth Ball) kind of floated out, Pat just snuck through there.