Not many horses pass Sweet Return when he's leading in the stretch and none were up to the task in the $400,000 Eddie Read Handicap (gr. IT) on the Del Mar turf Sunday.
Fourty Niners Son and Singletary both took their shots in the stretch but they came 1 1/2 lengths shy of the Read pacesetter Sweet Return, who won the third grade I race of his career in gate-to-wire style. The British-bred son of Elmaaumul ridden by Alex Solis competed the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:46 2/5, three-fifths of a second off the track record.
"He's so professional," said Solis, who has ridden Sweet Return in his last three starts. "He broke really sharp and then he was relaxed. I just let him roll along. He's got a half-mile run in him that is special. You can ask him for it and you'll get it for sure. Riding one like him is lots of fun."
Fourty Niners Son, ridden by Corey Nakatani, nosed Singletary and David Flores for second while 7-5 favorite Castledale faltered in the stretch and finished fourth, four lengths behind the winner.
The Ron McAnally-trained Sweet Return ended an eight-race losing streak in his last start when he won the 1 1/4-mile Charles Whittingham Handicap (gr. IT) on the front end at Hollywood Park June 11.
Given Sweet Return's record of six starts without a victory at nine furlongs and the likelihood that he would need to work harder for the lead at the shorter distance, it was a surprise that the 5-year-old chestnut was able to dictate the pace through easy fractions of :25, :49 1/5 and 1:12 3/5. The mile split was 1:35 1/5 and Sweet Return still had more to give.
"I'm shocked," McAnally remarked after seeing the slow fractions and easy lead for his horse. "I told Alex 'Wherever you are, make sure you have something left.' I reminded him, too, that the horse did come from last place one day at Santa Anita to win. At least we stayed out of trouble (on the lead)."
With Singletary, Fast and Furious and Castledale tracking loosely, Sweet Return cut the corner on the far turn and took a two-length lead in the stretch. Sweet Return, as he usually does, held sway under Solis' pressure as Fourty Niners Son rallied along the inside and Singletary off the rail. Both had every opportunity but could not cut into Sweet Return's advantage in the late stages.
Sweet Return, who was third in last year's Eddie Read, won for the seventh time in 26 lifetimes starts while bumping his earnings to $1,508,731 for owner John Brunetti's Red Oak Stable. Besides the Whittingham, Sweet Return also captured the 2003 Hollywood Derby (gr. IT). He won the Frank Kilroe (gr. IIT) and the San Marcos (gr. IIT) handicaps at Santa Anita in 2004. The victory was Sweet Return's second in five tries on the Del Mar grass course.
McAnally said Brunetti would like to run Sweet Return in the Arlington Million (gr. IT) Aug. 13. Sweet Return finished eighth in last year's Million.
McAnally, who tied Bob Baffert among trainers for second in all-time stakes victories at Del Mar with 70, has now saddled 415 winners at the seaside track, more than any other conditioner.
The 5-2 second choice in the field of six, Sweet Return paid $7, $4 and $2.80. Fourty Niner's Son, making his second graded stakes start after finishing third in the American Handicap (gr. IIT) July 3, returned $6.40 and $3.80.
"There wasn't any pace," groaned Nakatani after finishing second. "(Fourty Niners Son) turned it on. But the winner is a very honest horse. He had his own way today and he was best."
Singletary, who has one win in four starts since taking last year's NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT), was $3.60 to show. Flores said he was happy with the way the race unfolded for Singletary, however.
"We tried him, but the winner was too strong," he said. "He just ran away from us. It was a good race for my horse, though. He's a mile horse. And I think this race will help get him ready for the real objective – the Breeders' Cup Mile."
Fast and Furious and Qsar trailed Castledale to the wire. A to the Z scratched.