Victor Espinoza drove the 7-year-old California-bred gray gelding to a relatively easy triumph in spite of the wide trip in the 6 1/2-furlong sprint. It was Greg's Gold fourth win on a synthetic track for trainer David Hofmans since returning to action last year after a delicate bowed tendon surgery. The final time of 1:14.62 was excellent on the reconstituted Cushion Track surface.
Greg's Gold, a grade I winner at Del Mar prior to his career-threatening injury, went over the $1-million mark in career earnings. He also turned the tables on Surf Cat, who defeated the gray by a half-length in the seven-furlong San Carlos Handicap (gr. II) Feb. 16.
"I think 6 1/2 furlongs was the difference (in beating Surf Cat) today," Hofmans said. "He was behind Surf Cat today and that gave him something to run at. He likes to run at a horse. That might have helped a little bit, but they ran very, very fast, 1:07 and 1:14. Both horses ran very well.”
Greg's Gold was bumped at the outset as outsider Sailors Sunset broke on top. Sailors Sunset was quickly nose-and-nose with the grade I winner Johnny Eves through red-hot opening fractions of :21.37 and :43.56. Johnny Eves, on Sailor Sunset's outside, edged away from his rival rounding the turn. But Surf Cat, under Alex Solis, was getting into gear on the outside with Greg's Gold and Espinoza following them from farther out on the track.
Surf Cat engaged Johnny Eves, who fought back along the inside, and gained a narrow edge in upper stretch. Greg's Gold kept closing to get the lead nearing the eighth pole and took command under smooth handling in the final stages when Surf Cat drifted in after being passed.
“Coming out of the gate, we got bumped a little," Espinoza said. "I was glad to see (Johnny Eves) show a lot of speed. He cleared and that made my job easier. Instead of wanting to take off with me, my horse settled and we were able to get a position. By the half-mile pole, I felt we were in control.
"My horse is so professional, he’s such a solid horse, he makes my job easy. There’s no question, this was one of the best races he’s ever run. He loves to win.”
El Roblar, making his first start for Richard Mandella since last June after chipping an ankle, rallied for third, 2 3/4 lengths behind Greg's Gold, with Richard Migliore aboard.
William R. Boswell's homebred Greg's Gold, a son of Lake George, improved his lifetime record to 9-10-2 in 25 starts while banking $1,067,923. The gelding has not been out of the money in eight tries on synthetic surfaces, including a win in the Pat O'Brien Handicap (gr. II) on Del Mar's Polytrack last summer. Greg's Gold ran second to Smokey Stover in last year's Potrero Grande.
"He's been in the barn so long, been around so long," Hofmans said. "He tries hard every single time. We're excited every time he runs."
Greg's Gold won the Bing Crosby Handicap (gr. I) on Del Mar's old dirt track in July 2005, then was sidelined for more than 18 months.
Sent off as the second choice in the field of six, the winner carried 119 pounds to victory and paid $8, $3.40, and $2.60. He topped a $17.20 exacta with Surf Cat ($2.60, $2.20), who carried top weight of 120. El Roblar was $2.80 to show. Peace Chant, Johnny Eves, and Sailors Sunset completed the order.
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