The British-bred Milk It Mick hit the front in the final furlong and held off a furious charge to win the $300,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap (gr. IT) on the Santa Anita turf Saturday for his first win since 2003.
Ridden by Kent Desormeaux for trainer James Cassidy and owner Paul Dixon, Milk It Mick - who had to overcome the 13 post in the two-turn event - was overlooked in the wagering at 12-1 odds in a highly competitive heat. He nipped Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT) winner Aragorn and Corey Nakatani by a neck. Chinese Dragon, who Desormeaux jumped off of to ride Milk It Mick, was a nose behind in third with Mike Smith aboard. The final time was 1:34 2/5 on a turf course listed as "good."
"The whole thing was getting him covered up early, but at the same time, we had to try and get over, being in the 13 post," Cassidy explained. "It was kind of a fine line. (Desormeaux) used him a little bit to get a position, and he was able to tuck him in. You have to tuck this horse in; otherwise, he would have been on the front end doing his thing.
"Mr. Dixon has been wanting to run him in the Breeders' Cup (Mile) and that may be at the end of the year, but I would talk to him about running in the Arcadia (gr. II on April 8) next."
Dixon, from Notts, England, was on hand Saturday.
Willow O Wisp, pressed by Buckland Manor and Geronimo, set a rapid pace of :22 4/5, :46 2/5 and 1:09 4/5 before being engulfed in upper stretch by a wall of horses. Unluckiest of all was the French group II winner Cacique, who was caught about nine paths wide on the far turn for Patrick Valenzuela. The Juddmonte Farms' Irish-bred 5-year-old closed with a rush after setting down in the lane but had to settle for fourth.
"He just had a brutal trip," said Valenzuela, who said he was pushed out on the turn by another horse. "It took me about ten wide, so I lost a lot of ground there, but he still ran a great race. He was the best horse. He's a real nice horse. He should have won."
The winner, who was just behind the first flight of horses, had no such problems.
"I had a really nice trip," Desormeaux said. "We missed the start last time (San Marcos). Today, being shortened up and breaking well, it really set him up nice. Also, being a typical European, he kind of hung a little bit when he made the lead. Thank Goodness he knew what his job was. When they headed him, he gave me just an ounce more the last 100 yards."
The 5-year-old Milk It Mick, a bay son of Millkom, had just one previous U.S. start, rallying impressively to finish second, one length behind The Tin Man, at odds of 28-1 in the 1 1/4-mile San Marcos Handicap (gr. IIT) Jan. 22. But Milk It Mick was a seven-furlong and mile specialist in England, while losing nine straight races since capturing the Dewhurst Stakes (Eng-I) at Newmarket as a 2-year-old in October 2003.
He has now won six of 22 races in his career with earnings of $598,752.
Milk It Mick paid $26.80, $10.80, and $7.80. Aragorn returned $15 and $10, completing a $2 exacta of $331.20. Chinese Dragon was $11.20 to show.
Cacique was followed by Terroplane, Charmo, Willo O Wisp, Buckland Manor, Toasted, Osidy, Senor Swinger, Drum Major, and Geronimo. We All Love Aleyna scratched.