Trainer Dan Hendricks, paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident July 7, won the $250,000 California Cup Classic when his 20-1 shot Cozy Guy gutted out a stretch-long duel over 25-1 Lava Man at Oak Tree Santa Anita Park.
Lava Man, on the inside with Jon Court aboard, got a slight lead in the stretch but Cozy Guy and Corey Nakatani gained the advantage close to home and edged away for a three-quarters of a length win. The time for the 1 1/8-mile event for California breds was 1:47 3/5.
"Dan did a great job with him and I'm so happy it all worked out like this," winning jockey Corey Nakatani said. "It's a great story."
A 3-year-old gelded son of Alphabet Soup
, Cozy Guy ran second in the Pomona Derby in his last start at Fairplex Park Sept. 25. That followed a couple of solid efforts against $62,500 claimers. The Pomona was his first stakes attempt.
The popular Hendricks, a 45-year-old Los Angeles native, has had success in the Cal Cup in the past, winning four races previously. He was injured in a motocross race in Riverside and his barn has struggled a bit since. The victory was Hendricks' first at the current Oak Tree meeting and his 14th in 2004.
"This is just great," he said. "It really picks us up. We had a slow summer and a little bit of a setback but the horses started running well at the end of Del Mar and here we are, winning the Classic."
Hendricks' assistant, Francisco Alvarado, has taken over saddling horses for his boss.
"I have great support," Hendricks said. "My family's been behind me since the start. My owners have been great to me. They've stood behind me from the beginning of this problem and it's great to have them here and to win this big race for them."
Favored Excess Summer (17-10) tired on the final turn after battling Lava Man and Cozy Guy through solid fractions of :23, :46 1/5 and 1:10. Excess Summer, ridden by Gary Stevens, finished last of 10.
Cozy Guy and Lava Man refused to yield in the stretch and they pulled away from the stalker Anziyan Royalty, who held on for third, 5 3/4 lengths behind the winner. None of the closers, including Tizbud, Calkins Road and Kedington, mounted a serious rally.
"Today he was so handy and was right where I wanted him to be the whole race, and I set him down at about the eighth pole and he just scooted away from them," Nakatani said. "It gives you a great feeling when a horse is moving that good under you."
The victory was Cozy Guy's third in five starts on the Santa Anita main track. He improved to 5-3-2 in 14 lifetime outings while doubling his career earnings to $302,820 for owners Jeff and Lance Hayes of San Diego and Jerry and Dan Higman of Huntington Beach.
Bred by John Zamora, Cozy Guy is out of the Rambo Dancer mare Lambent. He was purchased by $42,000 at Keeneland in January 2002.
Cozy Guy paid $43.20, $16.60 and $7.80. Lava Man returned $21.80 and $12 while completing a $497.00. Anziyan Royalty's show was $4.80.
Calkins Road, the 2002 Cal Cup Classic winner, was fourth, followed by Tizbud, making his fist start since winning last year's Cal Cup Classic. Commander's Flag, Intuit, Yougottawanna, Kedington and Excess Summer followed.