It was the second grade I win for the Dan Hendricks-trained Daytona, who also won the 10-furlong Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) during his current hot streak.
With Alex Solis once again at the controls, the usually reliable front-runner also showed an added dimension by sitting off the leading Ever a Friend. He moved up on the outside in deep stretch to reach even terms with the pacesetter and proved the better finisher this day under left-handed urging. The final time was an outstanding 1:33.44 on firm going, four-fifths of a second off the track mark established by Megan's Interco in 1994.
Breaking from the far outside in the field of seven, Daytona left the gate a bit slowly for Solis. They soon cleared the rest of the field, however, and Solis quickly angled the 4-year-old over to prompt the pacesetter Ever a Friend, winner of the Frank Kilroe Handicap (gr. IT) at one mile in his last start for Mike Mitchell March 1.
Tyler Baze, aboard Ever a Friend, set a pressured clip of :23.88 for the opening quarter mile, :46.68 for the half and 1:09.63 for six furlongs and still held a half-length lead over Daytona at the eighth pole. The lack of a recent race for Ever a Friend may have been a factor from there, however, as Daytona edged his way to the lead and drew off with a final surge.
"I'm sure Tyler wanted to be close by me and that's why he ended up on the lead," Solis said. "I was glad to see that. My horse was so relaxed, at that point I felt I was in control. I knew this horse could sit because he's a way better horse than he used to be. You can do just about anything with him now."
Ever a Friend held second by a neck over Hyperbaric, who lost some ground on the final turn but was breathing fire in the stretch for Rafael Bejarano.
"He broke great and I just went on with him," Baze said o the runner-up. "He ran his tail off all the way. He had a good trip and did everything perfect. No excuses."
Perfect Drift, the 9-year-old gelding who was looking to give Richard Mandella an old-timer's double in the Shoemaker after the Hall of Fame conditioner won it last year with the 9-year-old The Tin Man, finished an encouraging fourth in his first start since July 8. Perfect Drift came home less than three lengths behind Daytona.
Owned by Skyline Stables, Bienstock and Winner Stables, Lenner, et al, the Irish-bred Daytona began his his hot streak last fall with a win in the Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT). In succession, the gelded son of Indian Ridge added the Hollywood Derby, San Gabriel Handicap (gr. II) and Fair Grounds Handicap (gr. IIIT), all accomplished on the grass and in front-running fashion. After a close third-place finish in the Mervin Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) on a yielding Fair Grounds course in March, Daytona returned to capture the one-mile Arcadia (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita by a neck over Hyperbaric April 5.
Hendricks said he wasn't concerned when Daytona didn't get the jump out of the gate.
"Alex just did perfect. He let him just break, follow right up next to the horse, he didn’t let the horse get away and had him relaxed the whole way," the trainer said. "It was probably his most impressive race to date.
"The horse can run back in three weeks or he can run back in seven weeks. We can give him a little break whenever we want and just have a lot of fun with him. There’s a lot of good races going a mile on the turf.”
The win, Daytona's eighth in 15 lifetime starts, pushed his earnings to $967,690. The Shoemaker victory was worth $186,300. Irish National Stud bred the chestnut, who is out of the Blushing John mare Kyka.
A late betting push made Daytona the slight favorite over Ever a Friend and he paid $5.40, $3 and $2.20. Ever a Friend, who was claimed for $62,500 by Mitchell at Hollywood in December, returned $3.20 and $2.60. Hyperbaric was $2.80 to show.
Perfect Drift was followed by Mast Track, Thousand Words and Notional. Get Funky, second in last year's Shoemaker, was scratched by trainer John Sadler.
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