British-bred Always First made a successful American stakes debut when he closed impressively along the inside to capture the $165,300 Sunset Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) on Sunday, the final day of the Hollywood Park spring/summer meeting.
Victor Espinoza guided the 4-year-old Barathea gelding through a great trip, set up by a solid pace in the 1 1/2-mile turf event.
Trained by Neil Drysdale for Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Always First hit the wire three-quarters of a length in front of T.H. Approval and the 2-1 favorite Runaway Dancer, who finished in a dead heat for second. One Off finished fourth. The final time was a tepid 2:27.
Always First won for the second time in four U.S. starts – all during the Hollywood Park meeting. Espinoza settled Always First near the rear as the field strung out quickly behind pacesetting R McLennen, who was pressed by One Off.
R McLennen led through fractions of :25 1/5, :49, 1:13 1/5 and 1:38 when One Off kicked past with Tyler Baze aboard and tried to steal the running. But One Off, also trained by Drysdale, shortened stride in mid-stretch and was overtaken on both sides by T.H. Approval, ridden by Rene Douglas, and Always First, who closed rapidly over the final half-mile and finished with courage to hold off the belated charge of Runaway Dancer and Garret Gomez.
Always First began his career in Great Britain with a win at Sandown but lost his next five starts for Sir Michael Stoute, which included a fourth-place finish in a group II race at York in August.
Transferred to the U.S., the bay won his first start, a 1 1/4-mile optional claiming/allowance heat, April 22 after a seven-month layoff. He was fourth in his next start and placed third in an allowance race June 23 in his subsequent efforts on the Hollywood lawn.
The fifth choice in the field of eight, Always First paid $11.60, $3.80, and $3.80 for his third win in 10 lifetime starts. He earned $99,180 to more than double his career bankroll to $189,417.
T.H. Approval returned $2.40 and $2.80, and Runaway Dancer paid $2.40 and $3.
One Off finished a neck in front of Continuously, followed by Hatif, Balustrade, and R McLennen.