Winless in seven career starts, Robador saved his best for the stretch run, nabbing Lucky J.H. in the closing strides to win the $250,000 Cal National Snow Chief for 3-year-olds by a half-length at Hollywood Park Sunday.
The 1/8-mile affair was the showcase event of the $1.3 million Gold Rush for California-breds.
Trained by Eoin Harty for owner/breeder Walter Family Trust, the bay son of Robannier
had been knocking on the door for his first win, finishing second – each time by a length – in his last two starts. He finished third in three of four starts prior to that. He was sent off at odds of 23-1.
"He's just been progressing with every race" Harty said. "He's really improving. He was really doing well coming into this race. I figured just the distance of the race would rule out quite a few of these horses, and I figured if we could get the trip, he'd be right there in the end to pick up the pieces."
With Jose Valdivia Jr. aboard, Robador's winning time was 1:49 2/5. He came from ninth after a half-mile. Lucky J.H. was a clear second by two lengths, with Top This and That finishing third.
"He may be a maiden, but he's been running so good, and I think he's been improving every race," said Valdivia, Robador's regular rider. "I knew distance definitely would not be a problem with him.
"We changed his style a little bit, letting him see what he can pick up from behind. Well, he started picking up steam, and the other horses started coming back to me. Then he got to goofing around a little the last eighth of a mile, and I thought I wasn't going to get there, but he did. And he galloped out real good so, hopefully, this will be the start of good things for him."
Thor's Echo, the 8-5 favorite in the field of 12 after winning the 1 1/8-mile WinStar Derby at Sunland April 2, finished fourth. Texcess, the 5-2 second choice, finished fifth.
Ridden by Corey Nakatani, Thor's Echo broke on top but allowed the rail horse, Tommy's Topper, to take over after that one was hustled up after a slow break. Tommy's Topper set a solid early pace of :22 3/5 and :46 before giving way to Thor's Echo, who was pressed on the outside by Texcess.
Lucky J.H., with Victor Espinoza aboard, rallied from mid-pack on the far turn and circled the leaders as they hit the head of the stretch while racing somewhat erratically. He came in on Thor's Echo in upper stretch. Lucky J.H. dug in gamely after assuming the lead at the eighth pole – completing the mile in 1:36 – but could not hold off Robador.
Robador carried 114 pounds, 10 less than the highweight Thor's Echo, and three fewer than the runner-up. His win improved his overall record to 1-2-3 in eight starts, with earnings of $191,646.
King Mobay, Panama Lane, Proud Tower Too, Regal Pan, Tommy's Topper, New Cloud, and Slewsbag completed the order.
Robador paid 48.60, $16.20, and $8. Lucky J.H,, who was part of a $444.60 exacta, returned $8.40 and $6.20. Top This and That was $9.60 to show.
The Falstaff mare Ivory Bowl produced the winner.
Speedster Alphabet Kisses simply ran away from fellow grade I winner Dream of Summer and registered a front-running two-length victory in the $150,000 B. Thoughtful for fillies and mares going seven furlongs.
The 4-year-old Alphabet Soup
filly, owned and bred by Harris Farms, sped to the lead, set fast fractions (:21 3/5, :43 4/5, 1:08 2/5) for Gary Stevens and drew clear late under moderate urging in 1:22. She was the 2-1 second choice.
Thunder's Echo, 33-1, nosed Tucked Away for second. Dream of Summer, the 7-5 favorite in the field of eight, was 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner in fourth after giving way for jockey David Flores. Alphabet Kisses and Dream of Summer each carried top weight of 124 pounds.
The Martin Jones-trained gray Alphabet Kisses was given a break after fading to fourth in the Jan. 29 Sunshine Millions Distaff. She won the seven-furlong La Brea (gr. I) at Santa Anita Dec. 27 in her start before that. She has won six of 11 lifetime and earned $456,910.
Under steady handling from Corey Nakatani, Unfurl the Flag edged away from the field at the head of the stretch and cruised to a two-length victory in the $150,000 Tiznow Stakes for older horses.
Racing without blinkers for the first time since August 2003, the Dave Bernstein-trained 5-year-old Betrando gelding vied for the lead along the inside before taking command. He completed the 7 1/2 furlongs in 1:27 2/5.
El Don finished second, two lengths in front of Greg's Gold. Anziyan Royalty, the 2-1 choice in the field of 10, finished fourth.
Unfurl the Flag returned from a year layoff with a third-place finish in an allowance race at Santa Anita March 20. He's won five of 17 lifetime and earned $90,000 Sunday for owners Gaylord Ailshie, Tom Harris, Bruce Rose, et al. The bay has earned $310,408.
Leave Me Alone repelled favored Cee's Irish in the stretch and went on to a four-length victory for her first stakes win in the $200,000 Melair Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
Ridden by Tyler Baze for trainer Eric Kruljac and owner S M Mitchel Ranch LLC, the Bold Badgett filly led most of the way after racing four wide into the first turn of the 1 1/16-mile event. The final time was 1:43. Cee's Irish, a three-time stakes winner who won the Sunland Oaks in her last start, held on for second as the 5-2 favorite in the field of 10, a half-length ahead of Two Times Won.
The 3-1 second choice, Leave Me Alone made her stakes debut April 2 at Santa Anita when she finished second behind No Bull Baby in the Santa Paula. She had been perfect in three starts prior to that. The victory was worth $120,000 and pushes her career bankroll to $196,180.
Running Free grabbed the lead on the far turn and gradually inched away to win the $150,000 TVG Khaled Stakes Sunday on the Hollywood Park turf.
Ridden by Victor Espinoza for trainer Kristin Mulhall and owner/breeder Southern Nevada Racing Stables Inc., the 4-year-old Soft Gold gelding had to hold off the late charge of 9-year-old Continental Red for a three-quarters of a length win in the 1 1/8-mile event. It was two lengths back to the third-place finisher Legal Logic. The final time was 1:48.
The 2-1 favorite in the field of seven, Running Free made an early move to take care of pacesetter Skywalker Red.
It was the fifth win in 15 lifetime starts for Running Free, who ended a four-race losing streak with his first stakes win. He has earned $283,604.
Al and Sandee Kirkwood's Valentine Dancer became California's newest millionaire in winning the $150,000 Fran's Valentine at Hollywood Park Sunday, the first race in the $1.3 million Gold Rush for state breds.
Ridden by Jon Court for trainer Craig Lewis, the 5-year-old In Excess
mare overtook pacesetting Smokegetenyoureyes in mid-stretch and held on for a three-quarters of a length victory. Valentine Dancer, the 9-10 favorite in the field of five, carried top weight of 124 pounds, eight more than the runner-up.
Scrofa finished 2 1/2 lengths farther behind in third. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile event was 1:40 2/5.
The win, Valentine Dancer's eighth in 22 starts was worth $90,000 and pushed her career earnings to $1,008,126.