Turf course record holder Special Ring returned from a nine-month layoff with a scintillating front-running victory in the $400,000 Eddie Read Handicap (gr. IT) at Del Mar Sunday.
Just starting his 2004 campaign, the Julio Canani-trained 7-year-old Nureyev gelding repelled a challenge from entry mate Bayamo and Sweet Return to win by three-quarters of a length in an outstanding time of 1:45.87 for the 1 1/8-mile event. The time .03 off the course mark he set in winning last year's Eddie Read by five lengths.
"He was running strong all the way," said winning jockey Victor Espinoza, aboard Special Ring for the first time. "He broke well and I was able to slow it down and he settled in real well. At the three-eighths pole I dropped him down (to the rail) and he cut. He was just flicking his ears, going fast but going easy. He was waiting for something to come to him. Then (Bayamo) came up next to him and my horse dug back in. He just picked it up again. He's something."
The Prestonwood Farm-owned Special Ring had been out of action since his eighth-place showing in the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT). He carried 118 pounds, one less than co-high weights Sweet Return and Bayamo.
Special Ring, who also held the mile track record at Del Mar last year, has now won three of his four starts at the seaside.
Sensing a lack of speed in the field of 10, Espinoza sent Special Ring to the lead immediately and established control, clicking off fractions of :23 3/4, :47 and 1:11 while opening a 3 1/2-length lead going into the far turn. Mr. Livingston, the only one in the field challenging the speedy leader, made a move on the turn, but the Florida shipper was only the first who would be denied.
Down the stretch, Bayamo and David Flores edged ever closer to Special Ring. Sweet Return, Jerry Bailey aboard, was in striking distance on the inside. But in deep stretch, Special Ring accelerated again under moderate urging and held Bayamo safe in the closing strides. Sweet Return continued to close well to just miss second by three-quarters of a length. It was another three-quarters of a length back to King of Happiness.
"I'm second guessing myself now," Flores said. "I could have ridden him (Special Ring). But I think the other horse (Bayamo) is a better horse. Sometimes you pick the right one, sometimes not. That's racing."
Special Ring earned $240,000 while improving his career record to 10-4-3 in 26 starts. He has banked $915,023.
"I couldn't get a race at Hollywood Park and I backed off of him because I wanted to come straight into the Eddie Read," Canani said. "I told Victor to keep him off the rail because when he's on the rail he takes off. I told Victor I wanted him to break and keep him two (paths) off the rail and not drop him down on the rail until you are in the middle of the turn. If you put him on the rail early in the race, he just runs off."
Canani won his third Eddie Read. Besides last year, he also won in 2000 with Ladies Din.
The Presonwood entry paid $3.80, $3.80 and $2.60. Sweet Return returned $3.80 to show and completed a $14.40 exacta.
Green Line was fifth. Vangelis, Sarafan, Just Wonder, Cayoke and Mr. Livingston followed.