Stan E. Fulton's St Averil inched past Lucky Pulpit in mid-stretch and edged away to a 1 1/2-length victory in Saturday's $150,000 Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita.
Ridden by Tyler Baze for trainer Rafael Becerra, the dark bay son of Saint Ballado-Avie's Fancy (by Lord Avie) completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:41 3/5 as the 2-1 second choice in a field of nine. It was his third career start.
The Santa Catalina is the first major West Coast 3-year-old race of the year and a stepping stone to the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 3.
Lucky Pulpit finished two lengths ahead of 6-5 favorite Master David, who closed willingly to edge Preachinatthebar by a head for the show spot.
Racing off the rail throughout while in mid-pack early, St Averil moved into contention on the far turn and finished under urging from Baze while maintaining his advantage down the lane.
"Around the far turn he took a nice, deep breath and when I asked him he really dug in," Baze said. "We got a perfect trip. We'll see how far he goes."
Lucky Pulpit, ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, dueled with early leaders Saltire and Perfect Moon through fractions of :22 3/5, :45 3/5 and 1:09 4/5. He took the lead from Perfect Moon as they hit the stretch and battled between horses as St Averil came to join the fray, but could not match the winner.
"It was perfect," Becerra said. "(Baze) did a good job. I was a little concerned when I saw :45 (for the half). But the good thing is, (Baze) knows the horse and I know the horse, too. Tyler is on the horse but I ride him from the ground.
"He didn't surprise me that he won, but it wasn't easy because (Lucky Pulpit) ran game," Becerra said.
The trainer said St Averil is likely to stay in Southern California for his next race.
After a slow start, Master David and jockey John Velazquez rallied on the turn while wide into the stretch and finished well between horses to just get up for third. Master David, who had raced in Great Britain at 2, was making his debut for trainer Bobby Frankel after finishing second in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in his United States debut Nov. 29.
Preachinatthebar, who closed strongly after saving ground most of the way, was a head better than Harvard Avenue, who finished a neck in front of the tiring Perfect Moon. That's an Outrage, Mambo Train and Saltire completed the order of finish.
The victory, St Averil's second, was worth $90,000 to Fulton, of Las Vegas. The colt, a $500,000 Fasig-Tipton purchase in July 2002, was coming off a second-place showing behind Lion Heart in the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) a month ago. He debuted in November with a three-length win over maidens. He nearly doubled his career earnings to $188,800 with the victory.
Gunsmith Stables in Kentucky bred the winner.
St Averil paid $6.40, $4.20 and $2.80. Lucky Pulpit returned $11.40 and $5.60. Master David's show was $2.80. The $2 exacta was worth $94.
Ferdinand in 1986 is the only horse who went on to win the Kentucky Derby after opening his 3-year-old campaign with a victory in the Santa Catalina.