Malabar Gold tracked pacesetter Astonished down the hill before rallying in the final strides to earn a head-length win in $138,125 San Simeon Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Santa Anita.
Astonished blazed the opening fractions in :21.58 and :42.96, skipped across the dirt track and back onto the turf, but couldn't resist the late surge of the winner in the final stages of the race. Under Chris McCarron, Malabar Gold completed the 6 1/2 furlongs in stakes-record time of 1:11.73 on the firm turf.
"I didn't think Astonished would be quick enough to be in front of me after a quarter mile, but he certainly was," said McCarron. "I was biding my time, waiting for the run Swept Overboard usually makes, and I wanted to make sure I had enough energy left to outfinish him, but when I hit the dirt, I figured it was time to go. This horse is tough, and he's a hillside specialist, and he's just a better horse than Astonished. I was almost outridden, fortunately I was on a better horse."
Nuclear Debate closed from last to finish third, 2 1/2 lengths behind Astonished. Casey Griffin, Swept Overboard, Devine Wind, Macward, Stratton, and Lake William completed the order of finish.
"He ran too good to lose," said Laffit Pincay Jr., who rode Astonished. "I thought I had it. I'll tell you, he never stopped. He was really trying. When Chris (McCarron) came to us, I thought he was just going to blow by me, but my horse kept his stride. He never gave up. It was a good race."
Malabar Gold is a 5-year-old son of Unbridled trained by Ronald Ellis. The San Simeon marks his first career stakes win. He earned owner Bradley Wayne Hughes $82,825 for the win, his sixth in 12 career starts. Malabar Gold finished fourth in last year's San Simeon, then was sidelined until January when he returned to win a Santa Anita allowance race at the San Simeon distance. He stretched out in early March and finished fifth in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap (gr. IIT) before returning for Sunday's win.
"The mile race (Kilroe on March 2) might have been a little too far for him," said Ellis. "He probably doesn't quite relax enough going long to run with the best milers, but the mile race really did him a lot of good because he's a lot more relaxed, been a lot more relaxed training, and been a lot stronger. So although we didn't win that race (Kilroe), I think it really helped us today because he was just so relaxed coming down the hill. He showed a little more versatility than just having to go to the front."
Malabar Gold returned $9.20, $4.80, and $4 and topped a $1 exacta worth $45.80. Astonished paid $8.60 and $7.20. Nuclear Debate was worth $5 to show.
Franklin N. Groves bred the winner in Kentucky. (Chart, Equibase