Sun Boat, who rallied from last on the final turn for jockey Michael Baze, becomes the latest claim by trainer Mike Mitchell to record a major stakes victories on the Southern California circuit since 2004. Sun Boat, a 5-year-old Machiavellian gelding, joins horses such as On the Acorn, Symphony Sid, Leprechaun Kid, and Star Over the Bay to go from the claiming box to win important races for Mitchell.
After winning his first San Diego, Mitchell said that Sun Boat would be heading next to the $1-million Pacific Classic (gr. I) on Aug. 19, where he could face another ex-claimer, last year’s Pacific Classic winner Lava Man.
Mitchell claimed Sun Boat from Eoin Harty for $50,000 two starts back on April 12 for Bongo Racing Stable at Santa Anita. One month later, the Great Britain-bred won a $40,000 claiming race at odds of 13-1 in his first start for Mitchell, a 1 1/16-mile Cushion Track event at Hollywood Park. Happy with that effort on the all-weather strip, Mitchell put Sun Boat in his first stakes and he surprised at 25-1 when finishing a nose behind Buzzards Bay in the 1 1/16-mile Californian (gr. II) at Hollywood June 2. Sun Boat was 6-1 Saturday.
“The last time I rode him, I didn’t know him so well," said the 20-year-old Baze, who won his fourth stakes race of the four-day-old meet. "And it turned out he wasn’t a big fan of the right-hand stick. I hit him left handed that day, and he responded; but when I switched to the right, he changed leads ‘cause he didn’t like it and I got beat a nose.
"So today I wasn’t going there again. But the way he exploded when he turned for home, it didn’t matter. This was a way better race for him. There was dramatic improvement. Even galloping out he was still strong. I think he’ll like that mile and a quarter even better.”
Buzzards Bay went off the 3-2 choice in the field of nine for the San Diego, also contested at 1 1/16 miles. But after galloping to the lead soon after the start and setting comfortable fractions -- :24 2/5, :49 1/5 and 1:14 -- the 2005 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner was all in mid-stretch, fading to finish eighth.
“This just blows my mind," said Jose Valdivia Jr. after riding Buzzards Bay. "He was running so easy. Going down the backside, I had a big grin on my face. He was just floating. I thought we were going to take them wire-to-wire for sure. But then when we went for home and I asked him for it, there was nothing there. I was out of horse. I don’t know what happened. He just wasn’t there. So disappointing.”
Also disappointing was the second favorite, Strub (gr. II) winner Arson Squad, who finished sixth in his first start since that victory.
As the favorites struggled on the tiring surface, the complexion of the race was changing rapidly elsewhere. Sun Boat, showing no early speed, was the fresh horse at the top of the lane. He rallied between the closing Awesome Gem and the tiring Raise the Bluff while five wide, took command, and won clear in the final strides. He defeated Awesome Gem, ridden by David Flores, in 1:45 1/5.
"At the three-eighths, I thought I was in good shape," Flores said. "But (Sun Boat) came by us so fast. By the time my horse saw him, he was gone.”
The stalking Salty Humor also rallied nicely to get third for Jon Court, two lengths behind the runner-up.
Raise the Bluff held on for fourth, followed by Heatseeker, Arson Squad, Soul City Slew, Buzzards Bay, and C'Mon Tiger, the half-brother to Tiznow making his graded stakes debut for trainer Bob Baffert.
Stewards held an inquiry into the stretch run but made no change.
Sun Boat carried 114 pounds, six less than top-weighted Buzzards Bay and Arson Squad. Sun Boat and Buzzards Bay raced at equal weights in the Californian.
“He just ran super. The six pounds is great, but he just blew out so nice over this track (July 15) and I was so happy with the way he worked on it and the way he galloped out," Mitchell said. "I’ve worked a bunch of horses on this track, and he’s handled it better than anybody else has handled it. It looked like Michael had plenty of horse, he moved in time and, when it opened up, he got through. That was great because he didn’t have to go around anybody.”
The fourth win in 12 starts for the bay was worth $180,000. Sun Boat has banked $314,345 in his career. Bongo Racing is Bob Feld, Daniel Capen, and Bob Tjusvold.
Sent off as the fourth choice of the public, Sun Boat paid $15, $7.20, and $5, topping a $79.20 exacta with third choice Awesome Gem ($5.40, $4.40), who won the San Fernando Breeders' Cup (gr. II) in January for trainer Craig Dollase. Salty Humor, trained by Sean McCarthy, was $10.40 to show.