Front-running Star Over the Bay held off a determined charge from veteran multiple graded stake winner Sarafan for a neck victory in the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) on the grass Sunday.
The striking gray/roan Star Over the Bay, ridden by Tyler Baze, dug in when challenged by the 7-year-old Sarafan, with Corey Nakatani in the saddle, and refused to allow Sarafan to get past. They battled furiously through the final furlong, completing the 1 3/8-mile journey in 2:12 3/5, three-fifths of a second off the grass course mark.
Star Over the Bay registered his second grade II victory in a row. The 6-year-old Cozzene
gelding won the Sunset Handicap (gr. IIT) in similar gate-to-wire (barely) fashion at Hollywood Park July 18, defeating Continuously by a nose. Continuously, the 2-1 favorite Sunday, finished seventh.
Baze, overcome with the effort put forth by his mount, was a little choked up after the race.
"He's an awesome horse," Baze said. "It's exciting to ride something like him. He digs in so hard. He took a couple of deep breaths along the way for me and I knew that was good. When we went by the finish line the first time – just about at the seven eighths – he gave it up and relaxed. I said, 'Oh, man, this is nice.'
"On the backside he was still plenty relaxed and I knew I was going to be tough. When (Sarafan) came up outside him, he wouldn't let him go by. He just ran so hard. He's a treat."
The Florida-bred Star Over the Bay was an $80,000 claim May 16 by trainer Mike Mitchell for owners David and Phil Kelly of Hacienda Heights, Carl VanBurger of Apple Valley and Landon Vaughn of San Diego. He has won two of three races since moving to his new barn.
"In the Sunset, I thought Frankel's horse (Continuously) won, but in this race, Sarafan ran his guts out and my horse just wouldn't let him go past," Mitchell said. "I thought it was a heck of a horse race. It just showed me he wasn't going to let a horse get by him."
Star Over the Bay, with a little pace presence from the filly Moscow Burning, clocked fractions of :24 and :47 3/5, completing the mile in 1:36 4/5. Sarafan, tucked in along the inside while stalking the pace in third, was forced to wait for room coming off the far turn. When an opportunity opened up, Nakatani moved Sarafan between horses while off the rail and Sarafan reached Star of the Bay's throatlatch in mid-stretch. But Sarafan, carrying 121 pounds – five more than the winner – could not get by in an exciting duel.
"I had to wait a little more than I wanted, but in these long ones you've got to have patience," Nakatani said. "When Mike (trainer Mike Mitchell) claimed (Star Over the Bay), I told he he'd made a helluva claim. He's a runner. I was hoping somebody would go push him up front, but there was nobody to contest him. My horse ran great. The other horse just ran a little better."
Mitchell, who won his third stakes of the Del Mar meeting, said he thought Star Over the Bay was going a little too quickly for the distance, adding, "That's the way (he) wants to run, but the horse was running easy and was where he wanted to be."
Moscow Burning finished third, with another 4-year-old filly, Dimitrova, fourth.
I can't complain," said Jose Valdivia Jr., who rode Moscow Burning. "I had (Star Over the Bay) in my sights all the way. But my filly ran great."
Star Over the Bay biggest payday meant $150,000 to his new connections. Star Over the Bay has won eight of 38 races in his career with earnings of $488,353.
Th 5-2 second choice in the field of nine, the winner paid $7.20, $3.60 and $3.20. Sarafan returned $4 and $3, and Moscow Burning $4.40. The exacta was worth $28.
Despite his narrow loss aboard Sarafan, Nakatani enjoyed a successful afternoon. He swept the second, third and fourth races on Behaving Badly ($4.80), First Draft ($13.40) and Turkish Cavalry ($16.80), respectively, and completed his quadruple aboard She's a Jewel ($9.80) in the sixth.
There were four perfect tickets in the Pick Six and each was worth $238,370. Added to a carryover of $226,040 from Saturday was $1,310,136 wagered Sunday in the Pick Six.