Coming off the worst race of his career, top California sprinter Joey Franco showed his doubters that he can win around two turns in Monday's $178,000 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II).
Those who believed in the grade I winner were rewarded at odds of 9-2 in the one-mile test, which he completed in 1:35 3/5. Ridden by Patrick Valenzuela for trainer Darrell Vienna and owner/breeder Jerry Frankel, the 4-year-old Avenue of Flags colt defeated Reba's Gold by two lengths, with Grey Memo rallying late to finish third.
Captain Squire, the 6-5 favorite in the field of seven, backed out of contention at the rail on the turn for home after stalking a quick pace. He finished sixth.
"He was just flat late," said jockey Alex Solis. "No real excuses."
Joey Franco, who was last of eight, beaten by 16 lengths in the San Diego Handicap (gr. II) on Aug. 3, got the perfect trip Saturday. The consistent California-bred sprinter sat in an outside stalking position while in contention down the backstretch as Seattle Shamus set a torrid pace of :21 4/5 and :45 1/5.
On the final turn, Valenzuela let Joey Franco move up three wide as San Diego upset winner Taste of Paradise took the lead after six furlongs in 1:09 2/5. At the top of the stretch Joey Franco pulled away from Taste of Paradise and Victor Espinoza.
Down the lane, only Reba's Gold and David Flores, who followed Joey Franco's path into the stretch, had a shot at him. The game 6-year-old, although gaining at the end, didn't have enough to seriously threaten the winner, however.
"It was a fast pace, I could tell, and I thought they were all going to come back to me," Flores said. "My horse ran his race and closed the way he was supposed to. The winner just kept on going."
Joey Franco, who won the seven-furlong Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Invitational (gr. I) at Hollywood Park July 5, has won four of his last five. In his nightmare race, the 1 1/16-mile San Diego, he was in tight and fanned wide into the opening turn, steadied twice and caved in at the top of the stretch. But he was much more relaxed Monday.
"He broke so good today I could just put him anywhere I wanted to," Valenzuela said. "We wanted to be on the outside. It seems he runs better from there. The other day he was trying to get out and fighting me. He just ran his race today. He ran true. He's a really nice horse and we got to see it this time."
Vienna was hoping for some better luck this time.
"What happened with him last time (San Diego Handicap), the winner had crossed over and put him in pretty tight quarters and he got upset," Vienna said. "Then he tried to get out of there, which just set the whole race off wrong. Being outside, we didn't have to worry about that today. I felt pretty confident going in. He's always a superbly exciting kind of horse to train. He has a lot of speed in the morning. He's really been training well coming up to this. I felt if we didn't have any bad racing luck and maybe some good racing luck today, we'd be pretty tough."
The victory, worth $90,000, was Joey Franco's eighth in 16 starts. He pushed his career bankroll to $611,091. Joey Franco is not eligible for the Breeders' Cup.
Joey Franco paid $11.60, $5 and $4.20. Reba's Gold returned $5.20 and $2.60. Grey Memo, returning from a four-month layoff with Kent Desormeaux in the irons, showed for $4.60. The $2 exacta was worth $67.40.
Earlier on the card, Centerofattention, with Desormeaux aboard, defeated Summer Wind Dancer and Ardum Relauch by a half-length in the $125,00 Solana Beach Handicap for California-bred fillies and mares.
Trained by Eric Kruljac for owners Dennis and Norine Grenier, the 8-1 shot bid between horses at the top of the lane and held off a pair of determined challengers. Summer Wind Dancer nosed out Ardum Relaunch for the place spot. Super High, the 8-5 choice in the eight-horse field, was fourth.
Since there were no correct tickets in the Pick Six, Wednesday's program will have a carryover of $252,901