Sent off at 20-1 odds, Proud Tower Too outdueled favored Attila's Storm for a one-length triumph in the $250,000 Malibu Stakes (gr. I), the feature on Monday's opening day card at Santa Anita.
Tricar Stables' homebred son of Proud Irish assumed the early lead, which he held into the top of the stretch when he relinquished it to favored Attila's Storm, winner of the Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct in his last start. Those two continued their duel down the stretch, with Proud Tower Too drawing away at the wire. The final time for seven furlongs was 1:21 3/5, which was 1 3/5 seconds off the 1:20 track record.
In posting his fifth win in 16 starts, Proud Tower Too returned payoffs of $42.20, $15.00, and $8.60. Attila's Storm paid $4.80 and $3.80, with Thor's Echo finishing third, 3 3/4 lengths further back, to pay $5.20. Wilko, winner of the 2004 Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), finished 11th as the second choice in his second start off a lengthy layoff.
The Malibu marked the first graded stakes win for trainer Sal Gonzalez and jockey David Cohen.
"I had a lot of hope for this horse," said 52-year-old Gonzalez, who has been training 28 years. "I always hoped he'd develop into something special and he has. I'll take it one race at a time. I don't want to plan his next race right now. This is my biggest win. David (Cohen) has really improved in the last six months and I wasn't hesitant to give him a call because he listens to you. He does what you tell him to do, whereas the other riders, they might listen to you but they think they know what to do so they do it."
Said Cohen, 21: "From his last race to this race he seemed to be a little stronger coming down the lane this time so I definitely felt a little more confident with the horse. It feels awesome (winning his first grade I), especially for a horse that does a lot of it on his own. He's a big horse. You've got to keep up with him. He tries to lean out a little bit, but I didn't even hit him once."
Tricar Stables is owned by Daniel Cardenas, who is in the produce business. He resides in Nogales, AZ.
The Malibu marked was the 12th start of the year for Proud Tower Too, who has had at least one monthly start since beginning the campaign in April. During that period, he has tallied four victories and one second, with all of his successes coming in races restricted to Cal-breds. Previous to the Malibu, Proud Tower Too won the restricted On Trust Handicap at Hollywood Park. The Malibu increased the colt's earnings to $349,014.
While Monday's on-track attendance of 34,590 was the highest for opening day in six years, the combined handle of $19,004,624 was an all-time record, topping the $18,655,298 wagered in 1998.
In one of three stakes on Monday's undercard, Chinese Dragon, a Stravinsky
colt who had won his three previous races over Santa Anita's grass course, extended his streak to four in the first division of the Sir Beaufort Stakes for 3-year-olds, the first turf competition of the season.
With Kent Desormeaux in the saddle, the bay Kentucky-bred closed strongly to outfinish Hockey the General by a nose while covering a mile over a course labeled "firm" in 1:35.09. "When I asked him to go," said Desormeaux, "there was no doubt at all I was going to catch whoever was in front of me." Pacesetter Becrux ran third.
Trained by Bob Hess Jr. for a partnership that includes Michael Carter, Dick Hale Jr. and Gino Roncelli Trust, favored Chinese Dragon paid $5.40. He earned $50,700 while boosting his career total to $275,890 from six wins in eight starts. Buzzards Bay, upset winner of this year's Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), made his first start on grass in the eight-horse field following a two-month freshening and faded to seventh after pressing the early pace.
The second division of the Sir Beaufort went to another dramatic stretch-runner, German-bred Tedo, who was winless in two previous U.S. starts following an 11-race campaign in Italy.
Under a vigorous ride by Corey Nakatani, Tedo overhauled favored Eastern Sand to win by a head while winning his division in 1:34.34 and returning $12.80.
The gray import, owned by Triple B Farm, had been given some time off by trainer Doug O'Neill following a disappointing effort at 5-2 odds in the Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT) on Oct. 15. He previously had finished second in the Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT), his U.S. debut in September.
"He just kind of ran so flat in the Oak Tree Derby that we gave him some time off," winning trainer Doug O'Neill said. "We were scratching our heads, pretty confident that he was better than that. Corey gave him a great, patient ride today."
Tedo's first victory in this country increased his career bankroll to $266,938. His record became 6-3-0 in 14 intercontinental starts.
Da Stoops, accorded odds-on favoritism after running second to Your Tent Or Mine in last month's grade III Hollywood Prevue, dominated his state-bred competition in the $135,250 California Breeders' Champion Stakes.
The son of Distorted Humor
, with Victor Espinoza aboard, sped to an 8 3/4-length victory over second-choice Direct Connect while timed in 1:27.63 for seven furlongs. "As soon as I got out of the gate, I was in front and that was it," Espinoza commented. "It was over."
Da Stoops, who paid $3.20, earned $81,150 for his romp. The purse elevated his career earnings to $163,970 from a 2-3-1 record in seven starts for owners Kathy Watson and Paul Weitman. Bob Baffert, who doubled on the day, trains Da Stoops.