Almost always forwardly placed in his races, Bold Chieftain was confronted with a dilemma, breaking from the extreme outside in a field of 10 in the 1 1/8-mile Cushion Track test. With plenty of speed to his inside and suspect at the distance anyway, Baze and Morey decided to take their runner out of the pace duel, settling in mid-pack as Cheroot and Lava Man vied for the early lead.
Bold Chieftain loomed up between horses on the final turn as Lava Man took the lead leaving the quarter pole after solid early fractions of :22.80, :46.15 and 1:09.86.
Lava Man continued to lead in upper stretch but was under urging from Corey Nakatani. The multiple grade I winner offered little resistance when collared by Bold Chieftain, who rallied three wide in the lane and edged away in the final furlong. The winner held off the late surge by Celtic Dreamin, ridden by Garrett Gomez, to win by one-half length. The final time was 1:47.23.
“We knew there was a lot of speed down inside of us and I was pretty sure we couldn’t beat Cheroot to the first turn," said Baze, who won with both of his Cal Cup mounts, including Sierra Sunset in the Juvenile. "A mile and one eighth is probably as far as my horse wants to run, but we wanted to get a position early, and have something left when we turned for home, so it was kind of a balancing act. Bill thought they would go with Lava Man and they did, so I was able to tuck in behind him in a nice cozy spot. I was able to get out with him when I wanted to and he made a heckuva run.”
Seminole Native, with Brice Blanc aboard, closed steadily for third, three-quarters of a length behind Celtic Dreamin. Lava Man, the 8-5 favorite, finished sixth for the third consecutive race since capturing the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) June 30.
“He definitely will be sent to the farm," O'Neill said. "He ran a good race and he gave us a flicker of that acceleration there ... He just kind of flattened out there the last little bit.
"We’ll do all the proper diagnostics to make sure while he’s off, we’re doing what we should. Right now, he’s a sound horse. He might be a little deflated, energy wise, from such a long campaign. But knock on wood, he’s sound. I feel I’m sending a horse to the farm that’s sound but a little bit tired.”
The Classic was the centerpiece in the Cal Cup program, eight stakes worth $1.3 million to state breds.
Bold Chieftain was coming off a fourth-place finish in the Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the grass Sept. 22. The dark bay has won three of his past four starts for Morey and owners Dwaine Hall, Ernest L. Langbein Trust and Kenneth Robinson, who also bred him with William Morey. A dark bay son of Chief Seattle—Hooked On Music, by Seattle Dancer, Bold Chieftain won for the seventh time in 13 races while boosting his earnings to $465,775.
“He’s a good horse and a consistent one," Morey said. "We’ve been trying to teach him to relax and it seems to have worked.”
Sent off as the third choice, Bold Chieftain paid $13.80, $5.40 and $4.20. Celtic Dreamin, coming off a 5 1/2-length win in the British Columbia Derby (gr. III) at Hastings Park, returned $3.60 and $3.20 and completed a $46.60 exacta. Seminole Native was $11.20 to show.
It was a head back to A Gallant Discover in fourth, followed by Add Heat, Lava Man, Cheroot, Tiz Afire, Rush With thunder and Valiant Effort. Freesgood scratched.
Here's a brief rundown of the other six-figure stakes on California Cup day.
$175,000 Mile Handicap: Unusual Suspect stormed home from well off the pace to win the turf event at odds of 12-1 going away for jockey Joe Talamo. They defeated favored Epic Power, looking to defend his 2006 Cal Cup Mile crown, by 1 3/4 lengths.
Barry Abrams trains Unusual Suspect, a 3-year-old colt by Unusual Heat—Penpont, by Crested Wave, who was bred by David Abrams. David, Barry and Dyan Abrams own the dark bay whose fifth win in 18 starts increased his earnings to $379,136. Unusual Suspect was coming off a fourth-place finish over the course in the 1 1/8-mile Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT).
Unusual Suspect ($27.20) wound up his charge from eighth after six furlongs, angling out mid-stretch to split rivals. The dark bay gained the lead in deep stretch and won under urging. Epic Power, the 3-1 choice ridden by Corey Nakatani, finished three parts of a length in front of Swift Winds and Agapito Delgadillo. The time was 1:33.89 on a firm turf.
$150,000 Sprint: The grade I winner Bilo, whose owner and breeder Ed Nahem died Oct. 31, prevailed in a game front-running effort by a half-length over Bonfante.
Running in the colors of King Edward, Joe Talamo guided the lightly-race 7-year-old gelding to victory in a time of 1:07.87 for the six furlongs on Cushion Track. Bertrando, who was bred by Nahem, sired his third straight winner on the Cal Cup card. Nahem raced the 1993 Eclipse Award winner as top older horse in partnership with 505 Farms and others.
Martin Jones trains Bilo, who won the Triple Bend Handicap (gr. I) in his last start July 7. Bilo, out of the Devil's Bag mare Raffle's Bag, has won seven of 15 starts with earnings of $524,036. Bilo ($7.20) held on gamely through the lane to defeat Bonfante, ridden by Aaron Gryder. It was 2 3/4 lengths to Wind Water, with Garrett Gomez aboard. Favored Johnny Eves finished last of seven.
$125,000 Juvenile: Sierra Sunset, ridden by Russell Baze, turned back all challenges to register a 1 1/2-length upset over favored My Redeemer in the 1 1/16-mile Cushion Track test for 2-year-olds.
Northern California conditioner Jeff Bonde trains Sierra Sunset, who was coming off an eight-length win in the Bay Meadows Juvenile for owners Philip Lebherz, Al Mariani, George Schmitt and Carol Wirth. Bred by Mr. and Mrs. Martin Wygod, Sierra Sunset is a bay colt by Bertrando--Toot Sweet, by Pirate's Bounty and sold for $40,000 at the Northern California September yearling sale in 2006. Sierra Sunset is now 3-2-1 in seven starts this year with earnings of $169,696.
Sierra Sunset ($15.60) took a brief lead on the final turn from the pacesetter Wise Mandate, inched away into the lane and withstood the bid from 9-5 choice My Redeemer, who had to overcome the far outside post in the 13-horse field under Isaias Enriquez. It was six lengths to Harlene, ridden by Michael Baze, in third. The time was 1:41.65.
$150,000 Distaff Handicap: Northern California invader Gentle Charmer blew up the tote board at odds of 54-1 with a bold late charge, defeating fillies and mares on the hillside turf course at about 6 1/2 furlongs.
Gentle Charmer ($110.00) saved ground at the rail while racing at the back of the pack, angling out for the stretch run. Under left-handed urging by Kyle Kaenel, Gentle Charmer reached the lead in deep stretch and prevailed by 1 3/4 lengths over Lady Gamer (David Flores), who nosed Excessiveobsession (Aaron Gryder) for second. Favored Dancing Edie finished sixth. The final time was 1:12.31 on firm going.
Ed Moger trains the winning 5-year-old bay daughter of Bertrando--Triple Charm, by Great Charmer. Coming off a seventh-place finish when he clipped heels in Bay Meadows' Autumn Leaves Handicap Oct. 6, Gentle Charmer won for the seventh time in 29 lifetime starts while increasing his earnings to $344,313 for owners Curt and Lila Lanning. Mr. and Mrs. Martin Wygod bred the winner.
$150,000 Matron: Romance Is Diane earned her first victory since last December's Hollywood Starlet (gr. I) when she dictated the pace and rolled to a 6 1/4-length win in the 1 1/16-mile Cushion Track test for fillies and mares.
Ridden by Michael Baze, Romance is Diane ($12.60) broke from the far outside to get the lead, set solid fractions for the distance and kicked away in the lane as 6-5 favorite Somethinaboutlaura, looking for her sixth straight win, faded to finish fifth. Bai and Bai, ridden by Aaron Gryder finished up second, three lengths in front of Swiss Current (Garrett Gomez) and Purrfectly Fitting (David Flores), who finished in a dead-heat for third. The winning time was 1:40.38.
Mike Mitchell trains Romance Is Diane, a 3-year-old daughter of In Excess--Romantic Fibs, by Prized, who won for the first time in six starts this year for owner Senji Nishimura. She has a 4-1-1 lifetime record in 10 starts with earnings of $507,660. Bred by Swan Equine Service Co., Romance Is Diane ran second in Del Mar's Torrey Pines her last start Sept. 2.
$100,000 Distance Handicap: Favored Imagine, ridden by Corey Nakatani, repelled a strong mid-stretch challenge from Rockella and Victor Espinoza and scored a three-quarters of a length win in the 1 1/4-mile turf event for fillies and mares.
Coming off a fifth-place finish in Oak Tree's Yellow Ribbon (gr. I), Imagine has won three of four starts for trainer John Shirreffs and owners and breeders John Spohler and Martin Wygod. The fifth win in nine lifetime starts for the 4-year-old dark bay daughter of Giant's Causeway --Smooth Player, by Bertrando increased her earnings to $267,059.
Imagine ($4.40), making her bid three wide on the final turn, took the lead from pacesetter Special Heather approaching the quarter pole and gradually pulled away from the field while drifting out in the stretch. Rockella made a bold move along the inside to challenge for the lead but Imagine fought back to win under urging. It was four lengths back to third-place finisher Easy Obsession, ridden by Jon Court. The final time on firm going was 2:01.90.
$125,000 Juvenile Fillies: Favored Runforthemoneybaby seized the lead in upper stretch and drew off for a 5 1/2-length victory for Oak Tree's leading jockey, Tyler Baze, on the Cushion Track.
Jeff Mullins trains the 2-year-old daughter of Unusual Heat—Andover the Money (by Dynaformer) for owners Michael Bello and Mr. and Mrs Larry D. Williams. Breeders are Abrams, Johnson-Stoll, V. Johnson, Nakkashian and Roberts. Runforthemoneybaby has won twice in five lifetime starts while never finishing worse than third while earning $160,144. The chestnut filly was coming off a third-place finish in the Oak Leaf (gr. I).
Runforthemoneybaby ($4.20) stalked the leaders along the inside in the 1 1/16-mile Cushion Track event before swinging three wide coming into the lane for Baze. She swept to the lead over pacesetter Cantina's Rose and Ice Lady and strode home impressively under a hand ride in a time of 1:42.15. Always in Style, ridden by Isaias Enriquez, finished second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of Shes a Real Keeper.