The California-bred Bilo, making just his third start since November of 2005, held off favored Surf Cat by a head in the final strides to earn his first grade I victory while upsetting Saturday's $300,000 Triple Bend Handicap (VIDEO) at Hollywood Park.
Jockey Joe Talamo, who claimed his first grade I earlier on the card when he guided Nashoba's Key to victory in the Vanity Handicap, didn't have to wait long to earn his second.
Given a front-running trip after breaking crisply from the extreme outside in the seven-furlong Triple Bend, Bilo led through quick fractions and opened up a three-length advantage after cutting the turn for home precisely. The 7-year-old Bertrando gelding had just enough left to hold off the multiple grade II winner Surf Cat, who was gaining with every stride under Alex Solis in his first start since May 2006. Surf Cat was the 17-10 choice in the field of nine.
The Martin Jones-trained Bilo was proven over Hollywood Park's Cushion Track, coming off a 3 1/4-length win in an optional claiming allowance race June 10. In his only other start since 2005, Bilo ran third in the Tiznow Stakes at Hollywood April 29.
"He’s always been a real nice horse and it seems we’ve never got it right with him, but this time we did," said Jones, who is winning at nearly 29% at the current Hollywood meet. "We didn’t change anything in his training. He just came up to this race really good and ready to run.
"Our strategy was to be on the lead, and I knew once he was able to get a hold of the fence he would be real game because that’s the way he likes to run. If he gets to the rail, he is the kind of horse that will not let you by.”
The 17-year-old Talamo, who rode Bilo for the first time, said he was told that the big gelding loves to race on the inside so he hustled him to the front.
"In the stretch, my horse was switching back to his left lead, and I was kind of worried," Talamo said. "That's why I was hitting him left-handed. But man, he's got such a big heart for such an old guy. He kept digging in and digging in and never quit."
Bilo completed the seven furlongs in 1:21 3/5 -- two ticks off the synthetic track mark -- after carving honest fractions of :21 4/5 and :44 1/5. Bilo carried 114 pounds, nine less than the top-weighted Surf Cat.
Surf Cat, training beautifully for his return to action for trainer Bruce Headley, was last on the backstretch but moved into contention easily between the fading Sailors Sunset and Battle Won and came up just a jump shy.
“I’m tickled to death about his race," Solis said. "To run this kind of race after so long is a great tribute to Bruce. Even though he lost, I think it's a big win. He handled the Cushion Track fine. I don't think that horse will beat us again."
It was 1 1/2 lengths back to third-place finisher Battle Won, who stalked the pace for Michael Baze and finished well. Siren Lure, last year's Triple Bend winner, had traffic issues and a wide trip and finished fourth.
Bilo, owned by King Edward, won for the sixth time in 14 starts and increased his earnings to $434,036.
Ed Nahem bred the winner, who paid $21.60, $7.40, and $4.60. Surf Cat returned $3.60 and $2.80. Battle Won was $4.40 to show.
Siren Lure was followed by Sailors Sunset, Gotaghostofachance, and Silent name, the 9-5 second choice who was wide throughout and failed to rally. El Roblar and Raise the Bluff scratched.