Seven weeks after stealing the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT), Red Oak Stable's Sweet Return employed similar front-running tactics in Monday's $150,000 San Marcos (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita with the same result – a gate-to-wire victory.
Ridden by Gary Stevens for trainer Ron McAnally, the 4-year-old English-bred son of Elmaamul milked a soft early pace and finished with authority, completing the 1 1/4-mile turf test in 1:58 4/5. He held off Nothing to Lose and jockey Jerry Bailey by a half-length with Blue Stellar, ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, finishing third, two lengths behind the winner.
"I rode him a couple times last summer and he has really improved," Steven said. "He is 10 lengths better right now than he was last year."
Fairly Ransom, the 8-5 favorite who was second by a half-length to Sweet Return in the Hollywood Derby, finished sixth under Alex Solis. Fairly Ransom lost ground on the far turn when in tight quarters, was forced five wide into the stretch and could not make up the needed ground.
Breaking from the outside post position, Sweet Return was wide early while completing the opening quarter mile in :23 3/5, settling in near the rail after that while leading through a half-mile in :47 4/5 and six furlongs in 1:12 1/5. With Blue Stellar and Nothing to Lose stalking the leader on either side, Sweet Return came out in the stretch a bit but held on gamely while completing the final quarter mile under strong urging in 23 seconds.
Nothing to Lose had every opportunity, Bailey noted.
"He was ready," Bailey said. "He ran really well. The other horse just had a better kick today."
The victory was much like the one he turned in for Julie Krone in the Hollywood Derby at odds of 16-1, although the final time of 2:04 1/5 was quite a bit slower. Krone, nursing injuries sustained in a spill at Hollywood Park, was unavailable Monday.
McAnally said he wasn't surprised the races were so similar.
"I told Gary he doesn't need the lead but if you get it make sure you've got him relaxed," McAnally said. "I thought it would set up exactly like the Hollywood Derby. There was no speed in the race and I told Gary the same thing this morning. He agreed with me. Our horse doesn't need the lead. He's proved it in other races."
McAnally, who also trains Fairly Ransom, said he was disappointed the son of Red Ransom didn't run better.
"I was a little disappointed in him to tell you the truth because he was laying perfect today, I thought," McAnally said. "The pace was slow but not really as slow as it was at Hollywood. Fairly Ransom might want a little bit more give in the ground. I know they've been running fast on the grass today and I think Fairly Ransom might need a little softer ground."
Sweet Return won for the third time in 10 United States starts over the past year. He raced in Great Britain at 2. The chestnut colt recorded earnings of just over $500,000 in 2003 while hitting the board in six of nine outings. Monday's victory was worth $90,000, pushing his career total to $613,031 with a record of 4-3-4 in 15 tries.
C S Tateson bred the winner, who was produced from the Claude Monet mare Sweet Revival. Red Oak Stable is the nom de course of owner John Brunetti of Little Silver, N.J., near Monmouth Park in Oceanport.
The fourth choice in the field of eight betting interests, he paid $15.80, $7.20 and $4.20. Nothing to Lose returned $6.60 and $5.20. Blue Stellar's show was $5.60. The $2 exacta was worth $89.40.
After the first three finishers came Puerto Banus, Sharbayan, Fairly Ransom, Gene de Campeao, Californian and Hecandigit. Puerto Banus and Californian raced as an entry.