The 5-year-old Kodiak Kowboy gelding found himself in a stretch battle with Win the Space late in the 1 1/4-mile dirt test at Santa Anita Park, but gamely put the 24-1 longshot away to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Melatonin's first grade I of the season, and first graded score of his career, was a 4 1/4-length triumph in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 12, which was followed by another game effort—a second to Effinex —in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) April 16 in his first start outside of California.
Under the guidance of Joe Talamo, Melatonin finished the 1 1/4 miles in a swift 1:59.79 after tracking early leader Lieutenant Colonel through most of the trip. The fractions through six furlongs went in :23.83, :47.70, and 1:11.48, while Melatonin loomed about a length off the lead. The eventual winner put a head in front through a mile in 1:35.52 as the frontrunner began to tire and then held off the challenge from Win the Space.
"What impressed me the most about him today was when Win the Space came to him at the eighth pole, he just battled back," Talamo said. "He gives you everything he's got."
Off as the 9-5 favorite, the David Hofmans-trained runner paid $5.60, $4, and $3 across the board and pushed his lifetime earnings past the $1 million mark with the victory.
"The emotions were pretty high. I'm normally low-key, but today I was really nervous," Hofmans said. "It was his big test today. I thought there were some quality horses in here that he had to beat in order to think about going on (to bigger things). The difference is that today, he validated himself. Any horse can beat any horse, on any given day. But to do it again, and maybe even again, then you start thinking."
Last year's Gold Cup winner, Hard Aces ($5 to show), raced closer than normal in fourth early and nosed out Hoppertunity for third, three-quarters of a length behind Win the Space ($24.80 and $9.40). The 3-1 morning line favorite, Hoppertunity closed from last in the eight-horse field, but never threatened the top two runners.
Melatonin was bred in Kentucky by S. D. Brilie, L.P., out of the Yankee Victor mare Yanquee Reign, and now has a 5-3-3 record from 13 starts with just more than $1.2 million in earnings. With the Gold Cup win, Melatonin also earned a spot in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) through the Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" series.