Bob and Beverly Lewis' What a Song is unbeaten in three starts after an effortless 2 3/4-length victory over Bashert in Sunday's $150,000 Best Pal (gr. II) for 2-year-olds at Del Mar.
Jockey Victor Espinoza shook up the son of Songandaprayer
a bit at the head of the lane, and What a Song responded to a challenge from Bashert by easing away to victory under a steady hand ride. Espinoza gave a couple of right-handed taps with the whip close to home but quickly put it away.
The Lewises paid a sale topping $1.9 million for What a Song at Barretts in March, and the Florida-bred has produced two graded stakes wins already. He prevailed in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship (gr. III) July 16 following a difficult stretch battle with Bashert.
This time around, it was much easier. His winning time for the 6 1/2-furlong test was 1:15 3/5, second fastest in the 35-year history of the Best Pal, which was known as the Balboa until 1995. Only Officer ran faster, stopping the clock in 1:15 in 2001. Although the Best Pal is the seaside track's major prep for the meet-ending $250,000 Del Mar Futurity (gr. II) on Sept. 7, trainer Bob Baffert said before the race that this would be What a Song's final start in 2005.
"I was on the best horse today, and I rode him that way," said Espinoza, who also rode Officer for Baffert. "I had a lot of confidence. He's still a baby, but he's getting more focused. He's starting to do the things he should do. And he'll take your instructions. You really enjoy riding a horse like this. It's going to be fun seeing what else he can do."
"I saw he hadn't been asked to run much, so I was pretty confident when they turned for home," said Baffert, who won his first stakes race of the current Del Mar meeting and his sixth edition of the Best Pal. "I didn't want him to go fast early. He has a great mind and, when he came back, he wasn't tired at all."
There were only four starters in the Best Pal because maiden winner A.P. Warrior was scratched after he dumped jockey Garrett Gomez in the post parade and ran off. He was returned to his barn without further incident, and Gomez walked away from the mishap.
The four that were left broke evenly with What a Song edging to the front while under a tight hold from Espinoza. Maiden winner Corazondelcampeon, who was bucking in the post parade, pulled jockey Corey Nakatani to the lead as they completed the opening quarter mile in :22 2/5.
But What a Song, racing along the inside, confidently moved back in front as they progressed toward the turn and Corazondelcampeon gradually dropped back after a half-mile in :44 2/5. Bashert and jockey Rene Douglas launched their three-wide bid on the turn. As the two bay colts came off the turn, it looked like a reprise of their Hollywood Park duel was in the offing, but What a Song -- who carried four more pounds than his rival -- soon took command.
"He fought back and he gave me everything he had," Douglas said of the runner-up. "I respect any horse that does that. But I was second best today. The winner is a nice horse. When he beat me the other day, I wasn't so impressed by him. But today I was."
Susan Kahn bred the winner, who was produced by the Tough Knight mare What a Knight. What a Song has now earned $179,700 in his three victories.
What a Song paid $3.60 and $2.40 as the 4-5 choice. Bashert, sent off at 8-5, returned $2.60.
Plug Me In, who tailed off soon after the start, ran on for third, 9 1/4 lengths behind the winner. Corazondelcampeon, making his first start since winning his maiden debut by six lengths May 29, finished last, more than 19 lengths behind.