Hollywood Story nearly went down after clipping heels heading into the clubhouse turn in Saturday's $100,000 Hawthorne Handicap (gr. III )at Hollywood Park. But the John Shirreffs-trained filly not only kept her feet, she and jockey Victor Espinoza went on to win the 1 1/6-mile test for fillies and mares.
Coming just a couple hours after trainer John Shirreffs saddled 50-1 shot Giacomo to win the Kentucky Derby, track announcer Vic Stauffer had it right when he exclaimed, "It's John Shirreffs world and we're just living in it," as the aptly named Hollywood Story rallied to victory.
Espinoza could easily have been unseated when the 4-year-old daughter of Wild Rush clipped heels with Cissy entering the clubhouse turn, but he maintained his seat and steered the filly to a dramatic come-from-behind victory.
"I was totally surprised when that horse came out into me on the first turn," Espinoza said. "Luckily, I had a strong hold on my horse. As soon as we clipped heels, she pulled my whole body to the front. My chest hit her neck. Then she pushed me back into the saddle. I saw the ground so close to my head that I could have reached out and touched it. Luckily, I was able to maintain my balance or I would have hit the ground.
"A lot of times you may not believe in being religious, but when it comes to something like this, I feel that God protected me in this race," he added. "At that point, I wasn't even thinking about winning the race. I was thinking only about being safe. My horse felt good and I felt good.
"But by the time we got to the three-eighths pole, I was beginning to think that maybe I could win this thing. Here I was just happy to be on the horse and it was looking like we could win. I started moving on her, and everybody else seemed to start slowing down. Wow, I'm thinking, 'I can win this thing.' It sure made my day."
Shirreffs watched the race from Louisville where he was celebrating Giacomo's shocking win in the 131st running of the Kentucky Derby. Shipped from his Hollywood Park base to Louisville on Wednesday, Giacomo paid $102.60 with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith up.
While Giacomo's victory was a major surprise, Hollywood Story was expected to win the Hawthorne. Despite the traffic problems, she responded by rallying from sixth on the turn for home for a 2 1/2-length victory. She has won three of four starts on the Hollywood Park track, dating back to her maiden victory in the 2003 Hollywood Starlet.
Hollywood Story covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.42 while paying $3.80, $2.80 and $2.40 as the odds-on favorite in the field of seven fillies and mares. Siphon Honey, second under Julio Garcia, paid $6.20 and $3.60. House of Fortune, another 1 1/4 lengths back under David Flores, returned $3 to show.
"This should clinch things for John as trainer of the week," said George Krikorian, the owner of Hollywood Story. "He's had a big day, that's for sure. She does like this track, she always runs really well here, but I think she could run well on other tracks too."
Michelle Jensen, assistant to Shirreffs, handled saddling matters at Hollywood Park on Saturday.
"Oh my God, I have goosebumps right now," she said. "Just a big swell in my heart. I knew she had the run and as long as she stayed clear, she'd be up there. But I didn't think she'd just fly past them and win by that many."
A three-time winner, Hollywood Story, purchased by Krikorian for $130,000 as a yearling, has not won a race away from her home track but she has finished in the money in ten of 14 starts. The winner's share of $64,980 boosted her earnings to $738,585.