The Chilean-bred Total Impact rewarded the constant faith in him displayed by trainer Laura de Seroux, ending a seven-race losing streak with an upset victory in the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) at Hollywood Park Saturday.
Total Impact was up the track to Even the Score, the 3-5 favorite in the Gold Cup, in his last two races. The victory for the 6-1 shot pushed his career earnings over the $1 million mark.
Mike Smith coaxed a ground-saving trip from the 6-year-old Total Impact, slipping through along the inside while brushing slightly with pacesetting Yessirgeneralsir, who came out a bit in the stretch while tiring. Total Impact finished gamely after gaining a slight lead at the rail to hold off Olmodavor, who edged Even the Score for second. The final time for the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup was 2:00.72 for Total Impact, who won by 1 1/4 lengths. Even the Score was a half-length behind Olmodavor.
"We've been waiting for him to run his 'A' race," Smith said. "We finally got our distance, a mile-and-a-quarter, and he put it all together. I looked at the two races where Even the Score opened up on me and at the end I'm catching him. He stays. The distance was the thing, and getting through on the inside helped, too."
The victory was a first in the Gold Cup for Smith and de Seroux, Smith in his second try and de Seroux in her first. She became the second female trainer to win the race, joining Mary Lou Tuck, who captured the 1980 edition with Go West Young Man. Total Impact became the first Chilean bred to win the race and 14th foreign bred to accomplish it.
De Seroux stayed home Saturday, tired after recent traveling, and left the saddling to her assistant, Jeff Ford.
"Truthfully, I thought that we were gonna run a place," de Seroux said by phone. "I thought that Even The Score looked a cinch, so we just wanted to relax and take a breather a little bit.
"I was hopeful to win and we did change tactics today a bit, but I really thought Even the Score had looked really, really dominant. Today he did have an off day I thought."
In the process, Smith and de Seroux ended Even the Score's attempt to sweep the major handicap races on dirt in the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting. Even the Score won the Mervyn Leroy (gr. II) May 8 by two lengths over Enders Shadow, with Total Impact third, five lengths behind. He followed that with a 3 1/2-length triumph over Total Impact in the Californian (gr. II) June 12.
Fans made Even the Score, who was ridden by David Flores for trainer Valdimir Cerin, the heavy favorite in the seven-horse field, and he had no excuses.
Yessirgeneralsir, as expected jumped to the lead for Omar Figueroa while logging solid fractions of :23 4/5, :47 4/5 and 1:10 2/5. Royal Moro prompted the pace, lagging by a couple of lengths on the backstretch as Even the Score on the outside and Total Impact on the inside stalked.
On the home turn, Royal Moro and Corey Nakatani increased the pressure on the leader before giving up the chase. Even the Score cruised up as they came out of the turn and engaged Yessirgeneralsir for the lead in the stretch as Olmodavor and Alex Solis angled to the outside three wide for his run. But Total Impact got through on the inside for Smith and under strong urging, got away from Even the Score inside the eighth pole.
"I was just where I wanted to be, and I waited until we went into the last turn," Flores said. "I chirped, and he didn't respond the same way as he had before. I was kind of disappointed when I went after them, and he didn't make a run. But I was hoping that when he changed leads down the lane, he would still make a run. But it was just not the same today. He was just a little flat, I guess. I have no explanation. It was just one of those days."
Olmodavor finished well to edge past Even the Score close to home and was making up ground on the winner at the end.
"I had a good trip, but the other horse was better today," Solis said. "I thought I might get there at the quarter pole. All three horses were running strong. It was a great race. But the winner got through on the rail, and I had to come around. It kind of cost me the race."
Total Impact, a son of chestnut horse by Stuka from the Chilean dam Pebbles (by Manos de Piedra) won the 2003 Mervyn LeRoy for his last win before Saturday. He went to the sidelines after that until December and didn't hit the board again until finishing second in the ungraded Tokyo City Handicap at Santa Anita in March. He had been in the money in each of his three starts since then.
"(Total Impact) does relish the mile and a quarter," de Seroux said. "I always thought that was his best distance. I didn't get to get there last year because he got sore after the Mervyn LeRoy. So I was looking forward to the trip and did have a positive feeling because of the distance."
Total Impact earned $450,000 for his owners, Prince Sultan Mohammed al Kabeer of Saudi Arabia and Mrs. Liliana Solari of Chile, and improved his record to 5-6-1 in 18 starts with lifetime purses of $1,159,568.
He paid $15.40, $6.20 and $2.80. Olmodavor returned $4.60 and $2.60. Even the Score was $2.10 to show. The exacta was worth $57.60.
Yessirgeneralsir finished fourth, followed by Royal Moro, Gift of the Eagle and Continental Red.