Memorette, a filly that is often close but seldom wins, finally had her opportunity to shine in the $150,000 Beverly Hills Handicap (gr. II) for fillies and mares on the Hollywood Park turf Saturday.
Trained by William Currin for his wife Betty, Memorette earned her first graded stakes win in the Beverly Hills, a race this year that had several trying to prove themselves at the level. Memorette is the first Cal-bred to win the Beverly Hills since Hill Circus in 1972.
"I don't know what's next for her – but I know that I won't be sleeping on the back porch tonight," William Currin said. "This was a Christmas present to my wife. I didn't have time to go to the jewelry store, so I gave her this horse."
The 4-year-old daughter of Memo, ridden for the first time by Victor Espinoza, collared Live Life in deep stretch to win by three-quarters of a length, completing the 1 1/4-mile grass test in 2:00.16. Moscow Burning, bidding to become California's all-time leading female in earnings, settled for third, two lengths behind the winner.
Espinoza had Memorette perfectly positioned in mid-pack off the rail to take advantage of a blistering pace and she did the rest.
Moscow Burning, the 2-1 favorite breaking from the rail for David Flores, took the lead coming away from the gate but took back to fourth when Dream Lady, Sohgol, and Live Life set out on a sizzling pace of :22 3/5, :45 4/5 and 1:10 for the 10-furlong distance. By the time they hit the stretch only the French-bred Live Life, ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, had anything left among the early leaders. She gave a courageous effort but could not quite hold off Memorette, who was three wide coming off the far turn and responded to urging to get a clear shot at the winner in the final furlong.
"They went a little bit fast in the front, but that's what I wanted," said Espinoza, who immediately departed to catch a flight for Toronto where he rides Wanna Runner in the Queen's Plate on Sunday. "I was worried that they might not go quick enough in the front, because she's always a late run. But, obviously, it worked out good for me. Turning for home, well, that was it. I had to ride her hard but, hey, that's my job."
Memorette paid $18.40, $9 and $3.60 as the sixth choice in the contentious field of nine fillies and mares. Live Life, who hung on gamely for second, returned $4.80 and $2.80. Moscow Burning was $2.80 to show.
Coming off a fifth-place finish on the Hollywood main track in the Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II), Memorette had won her previous start against Cal-breds, defeating Moscow Burning in the 1 1/16-mile Fran's Valentine for her first turf win. She had four runner-up efforts and two thirds in eight starts last year, including second-place showings on the dirt in the Las Virgenes (gr. I), Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I), and Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks (gr. II). She began her turf career with a sixth-place finish in the American Oaks (gr. IT) at Hollywood last July.
"This filly's got the best kick and, when she's right, she's dead right," William Currin said. "It worked out perfect; sometimes, you're just lucky.
"I was optimistic she would run well when she worked 1:12 and change the other day with the dogs way out, and she came back perfect."
Overall, Memorette has a record of 4-5-4 in 19 starts with earnings of $620,753. Oak Tree Farm bred the dark bay or brown filly who is out of Forever Fondre, by Shahrastani.
Valenzuela, meanwhile, had no complaints with the runner-up Live Life.
"For them to go :45 and change and her right behind them ... they stopped at about the half-mile pole, but my filly went on," Valenzuela said. "She just couldn't withstand the last part of it, the close of Memorette."
Moscow Burning went into the Beverly Hills with earnings of $1,287,000 and had a chance to pass Fran's Valentine ($1,375,465) with a victory. She earned $18,000 with her third-place finish and remains $70,465 behind.
"They were flying, so I was comfortable where I was," Flores said. "I was kind of waiting, then made my run, but she got a little bit tired around the last turn."
Dalicia finished fourth, followed by Eternal Melody, Cissy, Immortalite, Sohgol, and Dream Lady.