David and Holly Wilson's Designed for Luck, who returned to action in August after missing nearly 17 months with a fractured left rear hock, held off a digging Sarafan by a half-length to win Sunday's $300,000 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita.
Ridden by Patrick Valenzuela for trainer Vladimir Cerin, Designed for Luck, prompted the pace on the outside and took the lead from Apache Wings turning for home. The final time for a firm course was 1:32 3/5, the second-fastest time in the race's history. Century City was 1 1/2 length farther back in third, with 7-10 favorite Special Ring finishing fourth by a neck.
The 6-year-old chestnut Rahy gelding was never expected to come back from his injury, Cerin said. Now he's poised for a start in the NetJets Breeder's Cup Mile (gr. IT).
Cerin said the Designed for Luck was treated daily with a magnetic pulsator for six weeks.
"He wasn't supposed to even make it back as a riding horse," he said. "He came back, his injury healed and there's no victory more gratifying than this."
Designed for Luck returned to action with a second-place finish in a one-mile Del Mar allowance race Aug. 18. He won the Live the Dream on the same course Sept.10.
Sunday, he pressed Apache Wings, who set quick early fractions of :22 3/5, :45 4/5 and 1:09 1/5 before giving way to Designed for Luck. The winner had a two-length advantage in the stretch before Sarfan, ridden by Victor Espinoza, switched off the rail to begin cutting into the lead. Valenzuela urged Designed for Luck all the way to the wire.
"He ran really good, actually, he was right off the pace and he finished really strong," said Espinoza. "For a minute I thought he was going to catch him ... Designed for Luck opened up like one length and that's a little too much of a disadvantage for my horse. He tries really hard. I think he'll be a little tougher in the next race."
Special Ring, with David Flores aboard, was not prominent early, the 6-year-old gelding's usual approach, running fifth some six lengths behind the early leader. While moving up to fourth, he was not a factor in the home stretch.
"He was just too quiet today, just too quiet," Flores said. "Before he was always on the mouth, running in the bridle. Today he was just too relaxed. On the first turn, when I got in that spot I just had to wait and hope that he'd make a run in the end. But this horse just didn't finish very strong."
Designed for Luck, the 2000 winner of the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) at 58-1, picked up his ninth career win in 21 starts with earnings of $544,320. Mr. and Mrs. John Mabee bred the winner in Kentucky.
The 7-2 second choice in the field of eight, he paid $9.80, $4.60 and $4.20. Sarafan returned $7 and $7.40. Century City, who was piloted by Jose Valdivia Jr., showed for $15.80.
Medecis, Mountain Rage, Green Line and Apache Wings completed the order of finish.