Forest Grove, guided through an opening along the inside on the turn by jockey Corey Nakatani, held off the late charge of Areyoutalkintome to register his first graded stakes victory in the $150,000 Los Angeles Times Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park Saturday.
Forest Grove, a 4-year-old son of Forestry
-Charm a Gendarme (Battonier) completed the six-furlong event in a swift 1:08 2/5 to win by three-quarters of a length for breeder/owners Aaron and Marie Jones and trainer Eoin Harty.
Areyoutalkintome, the 19-10 favorite in the six-horse field and ridden by Rene Douglas, finished a length in front of Woke Up Dreamin and Victor Espinoza.
Breaking from the inside post, Forest Grove was able to relax off the blistering pace set by Hombre Rapido, who clicked off fractions of :21 3/5 and :44 before fading to finish last in his fourth straight start in the L.A. Times. The 8-year-old gelding won the race in 2002 but hasn't won in nine starts since.
Fourth early, Nakatani pushed the button on the turn and Forest Grove responded on the rail to open up by a couple of lengths at the eighth pole. Areyoutalkintome stalked the lead on the outside and rallied again in the stretch to make it close.
"Martin Pedroza's horse (Hombre Rapido) was getting out the whole time," Nakatani said. "This horse is comfortable wherever he is, but why take a chance of getting him beat. So we came up the rail, and it got us to the wire first."
Harty took over training duties from Todd Pletcher when the chestnut colt was transferred west for the Santa Anita season.
The former Bob Baffert assistant said he wasn't concerned about the fast early fractions.
"I was actually concerned he might have moved a little too soon because it looked like he was getting a tiny bit late in the last part," Harty said. "But this horse is getting better and better and he's starting to learn how to relax in a race and the more he can do that, the better he will be."
Forest Grove, who was coming off a second-place finish, beaten by 1 1/2 lengths in the Count Fleet Special Handicap (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park April 14, snapped a four-race losing streak. He has won five of 15 in his career with earnings of $281,130.
He paid $10.20, $4.40, and $2.60 as the fourth choice. Areyoutalkintome returned $3.60 and $2.40. Woke Up Dreamin was $2.80 to show.