Things may not have gone quite as planned when Truly a Judge got some unexpected company on the lead. But the 3-5 favorite had enough left at the end to defeat the closer Star Cross by a length in the $150,000 San Gabriel Handicap (gr. III) Saturday at Santa Anita Park.
The race, originally scheduled as a grade II on the turf, was switched to the main track due to heavy rain in Southern California in recent days. With the field reduced to six by the change, it was contested as a grade III subject to further review from the American Graded Stakes Committee.
Truly a Judge, a 7-year-old gelding claimed for $20,000 by trainer David Bernstein a few years ago, won for the third straight time, the last victory coming in the Dec. 11 Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park. That was the first graded stakes win for the dark bay, whom Bernstein has employed as a frontrunner to great success in recent months.
Bernstein said he entered Truly a Judge in hopes that the race would be taken off the grass course. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile event was 1:48 4/5 on a tracked rated "wet fast."
"He had plenty left but we had to run a little head-to-head early," said the trainer. "It was a little quick back for us (from the Native Diver) but the race came up right and we appreciate the fact that it rained and they were able to take it off the grass, which really helped us."
Breaking from the far outside the Argentine-bred Forty Suertudo was determined to outflank Truly a Judge going into the clubhouse turn, getting the lead with a quick :22 2/5 opening quarter-mile and holding on through a half-mile in :46 2/5. But Truly a Judge, ridden by Martin Pedroza, assumed control from the inside, completing six furlongs in 1:10 1/5 and the mile in 1:35 4/5. He angled out slightly in the stretch and held off Star Cross under strong urging.
Pedroza said Truly a Judge doesn't need the lead.
"I just needed him to break, because he's not really good at breaking," Pedroza said. "You have to help him out of there. I wanted to let the other horse (Forty Suertudo) go, but every time I let him go, he'd take a hold, so I was committed. So he got a little bit tired, down in the heavy stuff on the inside. It was really heavy. But I tell you what he's a gutsy son of a gun."
Star Cross, who had to steady off heels hard on the clubhouse turn for jockey Tyler Baze, was well behind the leaders on the far turn but put in a solid stretch bid and was getting to the winner in the late stages while coming up short.
"If I would have known he had the kind of kick like he had when I asked him at the three-eighths pole I would have waited 'til the quarter pole," Baze said, "because when I asked him he dropped and took off like a rocket, but he just got a little tired."
Three lengths farther back, the 9-year-old Continental Red, ridden by Gary Stevens, nosed Forty Suertudo for third. Mudshark and Sea to See followed.
Alan Aidekman, Gaylord Ailshie and Tom Harris own the winner, a Kentucky-bred son of Judge TC
they claimed in 2001. The gelding improved his career record to 12-7-8 in 42 starts. The $90,000 winning share increased Truly a Judge's overall earnings to $685,131.
"This is the best horse I've ever claimed," Bernstein said.
"He's turned into a hard-knocking horse. You put him on the lead and he's tough to get by. We probably should have done that a long time ago now that I think about it (taken off blinkers). He's earned well over a half a million (dollars) for us.
"He's got a lovely stride and Tony (Torres) my assistant has done a marvelous job with him. He works on his feet night and day. He's got quarter crack problems and everything else, but when he runs he really lays 'em down."
Truly a Judge paid $3.20, $2.80 and $2.20. Star Cross returned $4.40 and $2.60. Continental Red was $2.40 to show.