Kentucky bred Irish Warrior, fighting for his first graded stakes in all-out deep stretch battle with Continental Red, prevailed by a head with jockey Alex Solis in $250,000 Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) at 1 3/8 mile on the turf.
The 5-year-old son of Irish River had been knocking at the door for trainer Wally Dollase. He was coming off back-to-back third-place finishes in the 1 1/8-mile American Handicap (gr. IIT) at Hollywood Park July 4 and the Eddie Read Handicap (gr. IT) at Del Mar July 27, also at nine furlongs. The extra quarter-mile of the Del Mar Handicap may have helped. The chestnut won in a time of 2:12 1/5, just one tick off the track record. Continuously, ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., finished third, a half-length back.
"He's been in tough the last two races, but still ran really well," Dollase noted. "Maybe the mile and three-eighths made the difference for him. Alex rode him just perfectly. He knows the horse and he swung him out just beautifully. He was really moving down the stretch and Alex was getting after him pretty good."
Dollase said he would wait to see how Irish Warrior comes out of the race before making a decision on what direction to go.
"This may have taken a lot out of him," he said. "It wasn't an easy win."
Mister Acpen, the 5-2 favorite in the field of nine turf specialists, was sixth after setting a solid pace into the stretch under Victor Espinoza. Ballingarry was fourth after trailing to the top of the stretch and finding his stride late for jockey Mike Smith. Kim Loves Bucky, a 7-1 shot, was making steady progress for leading rider Patrick Valenzuela at the rail in the stretch, but clipped heels while making his move at the three-sixteenths pole and fell back, finishing seventh.
Mr. Acpen went :23 1/5, :47 2/5, 1:12 and 1:35 3/5 before giving way to Continental Red.
The win denied Continental Red's bid to go over $1 million in career. The game 7-year-old gelding, ridden by Julie Krone, earned $50,000 for the runner-up finish, leaving him at $974,203 in his 52nd start.
Irish Warrior made a sweeping four-wide move on the turn to move into contention in the stretch outside of Continental Red, who had wrestled the lead from Mr. Acpen. Continental Red inched away from the others until Irish Warrior engaged him at the eighth pole and the two fought to the wire as Continuously kept gaining to be a close-up third.
"They got the right name for him," Solis said. "He was a warrior out there today. I had a great trip around there. He said when it came time to go, to go around. (Dollase) said he'd fire better if I went outside. It worked out just that way. He's a nice horse and he showed it today."
Irish Warrior collected $150,000 for owners Pat Coleman, Jim Thomson, George Basaro and Dollase, winning for the sixth time in 19 tries (all on turf) while pushing his career bankroll to $469,500. More than $300,000 of that total has come this year.
Sent off as the second choice, the winner paid $8.20, $4.40 and $3.60. Continental Red returned $8.80 and $5.80. Continuously showed for $7. The $2 exacta was worth $77.40.
On a day in which champion rider Laffit Pincay, Jr., was honored, attendance totaled 20,881.