Pico Central had won spotlight grade I races in New York in his last two starts, but he ran into a hotter horse Sunday in the Mike Mitchell-trained Kela, who blew past the 2-5 choice in mid-stretch to win the $194,000 Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar.
The 6-year-old Kela, who was coming off a grade I victory in the Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. I) July 25, loves Del Mar. He has won four of seven starts at the seaside with a pair of seconds.
Sunday, Tyler Baze rode the late-running horse by Numerous to an easy 4 1/2-length victory in a seven-furlong time of 1:21.
"The acceleration this horse has is just unbelievable," Baze said. "You can't believe how good he feels. He's just unbelievable. I can't wait for the Breeders' Cup."
Things went right for Kela, who received six pounds from Pico Central, the 122-pound highweight making his first start since winning the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park May 31. Kela also benefitted from a great pace that compromised Pico Central's chances.
The field was reduced to five by the scratches of two-time O'Brien defending champion Disturbingthepeace, Amerindio and Marino Marini. Fans could see only Pico Central.
But Pico Central, who also won the Carter (gr. I) and San Carlos (gr. II) handicaps this year, was in trouble from the start. He broke fast and settled into a duel for the lead with Taste of Paradise through fast fractions of :21 4/5 and :43 4/5. Both were visibly tired in the stretch, however, and Kela swept by with little trouble. Domestic Dispute ground out the place by a length over Pico Central.
Flores blamed the dull effort by Pico Central on the early pace duel, saying Jon Court aboard Taste of Paradise was "pushing, pushing."
"My horse was just too much in the bridle," Flores said. "I couldn't get him to relax. Too much pushing. He just got tired in the end. The race will set him up, though. He'll go better next time."
Mitchell said he was keeping his eye on Pico Central.
"I knew my horse had his big kick. I had seen him (Pico Central) go head and head with other horses and not have it bother him. Maybe he needed the race."
Kela, who also won the Texas Mile (gr. III) at Lone Star Park this year, has won three of seven for owner Jay Manoogian this year, earning $120,000 for the win Sunday. He has won eight of 23 in his career with a bankroll of $793,527.
The second choice in the field, Kela paid $7.20, $4.20 and $2.10. Domestic Dispute ($8, $2.10) completed s $58.60 exacta. Pico Central's show was $2.10.
Hasty Kris and Taste of Paradise trailed.
Kela became the fifth horse to sweep the Bing Crosby and Pat O'Brien in the same year.
"After the ( Bing Crosby), I don't tell Tyler how to ride this horse," Mitchell said. "He figured out back when he rode him at Santa Anita that the horse doesn't like dirt in his face, and that's our biggest thing, to keep dirt out of the horse's face."
The minus show pool on Pico Central in the race was $32,891.