Ridden by Northern California journeyman Frank Alvarado, the 7-year-old California-bred horse by Memo finished three-quarters of a length in front of the late-running Summer Book. Silver Wagon settled for third, a half-length behind the runner-up and a neck better than Dry Martini. Sweetnorthernsaint, last year's Preakness (gr. I) runner-up who had to overcome the outside post in the 12-horse field, tired to fifth. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile event was 1:49 4/5.
McCann's Mojave went over the $1 million mark in career earnings with Saturday's winning prize of $550,000. Owned by breeders Alix Nikki Hunt and Mike Willman, who is Santa Anita's publicity director, McCann's Mojave had not been in the money in six starts after winning the California Cup Classic in November 2005. Perhaps nearing the end of his career, the owners transferred the bay from Paddy Gallagher's stable to Steve Specht in Northern California in December, where McCann's Mojave responded with back-to-back wins in the slop at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields, where he won the Union Square Stakes on Dec. 26.
“I guess it was the change of scenery," Specht said of the McCann's Mojave's reversal of form. "I don’t know that I’ve done anything special since getting this horse. He’s a good horse to train. He’s a tough horse in his stall, but on the racetrack he does everything right. The biggest pot I’ve ever won before was a hundred and fifty thousand Cal Cup race, and that horse paid over a hundred dollars (to win). The owners just wanted to give this horse a shot up north. Sometimes these horses can get in a rut. Going against softer company, he’s been able to get his confidence back."
Get Funky grabbed the early lead as McCann's Mojave, between horses, settled into second and Sweetnorthernsaint stalked on the outside through an opening quarter mile of :23 1/5 and four furlongs in :46 4/5. McCann's Mojave got the lead when Get Funky backed up entering the far turn, but Sweetnorthernsaint, under Ramon Dominguez, put his head in front after six furlongs in 1:10 4/5. The two skirmished briefly at the top of the lane before McCann's Mojave gradually pulled away to get an open advantage as Sweetnorthernsaint tired. McCann's Mojave was under heavy pressure to last as the stalkers Summer Book, Silver Wagon and Dry Martini rallied in the final furlong.
"When he’s in front, he’s a gamble," Alvarado said of the winner. "He’s not going to let anyone pass. He keeps going. He’s a fighter and has a big heart. At the quarter pole, I knew they had to come and get me."
McCann's Mojave, out of the popular race mare Joni U. Bar (who died last year, according to Willman), registered his 10th win in 24 lifetime starts and pushed his earnings to $1,174,955. He is being pointed to the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), Willman said, although he would have to be supplemented. He paid $69.80, $30.60 and $14.80.
Greg Besinger’s 6-year-old gelding Summer Book, off at 42-1 himself, rounded out a $2 exacta of $2,337.40 while returning $36.20 and $16.60 with Mark Guidry aboard. Silver Wagon, he 3-1 second choice attempting nine furlongs for the first time in his career, was $4.80 to show.
Following Dry Martini and 2-1 choice Sweetnorthernsaint was Papi Chullo, Rehoboth, Armenian Summer, Texcess, Bob's Proud Moment, Blazing Rate and Get Funky.
“He went into this race doing very good," trainer Michael Trombotta said of the favorite, who was 3 1/2 lengths behind the winner. "Ramon positioned him very well, but he just didn’t have it today. All that matters now is that he comes back all right and lives to fight another today."
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