In the first of five "Win and You're In" Breeders Cup challenge races at Del Mar this weekend, the 7-10 choice Spring House raced in fifth for most of the journey, chasing the leaders into the stretch, where he split rivals and finished as much the best while slightly urged by Nakatani. He won by 1 1/2 lengths in a track mark of 2:11.14. That was nearly a full second better than the old standard of 2:12.07 established by Crazy Ensign in 2003.
Julio Canani, who trains Spring House for owner R.D. Hubbard, won his second Del Mar Handicap. He saddled Sayarshan for victory in the 1999 running.
"It was easy," said Nakatani, who rode the winner for the first time. "He was comfortable all the way around there and so was I. When you have one like this, it makes it easy. He's a Breeders' Cup caliber horse. There's no doubt about that."
Hubbard, interviewed on TVG afterward, said he "was very pleased with where he sat. He likes to make one big run.
"I'm sure he'll go to the Breeders' Cup," he added, "but we're not sure if it will be to the Breeders' Cup Turf or the new Breeders' Cup Dirt (Marathon). We'll wait until we get a little closer to the race and then decide."
You Got Me Rocking, leading by about a length over American Imperium, set solid fractions for the distance under Joel Rosario—:23.84, :47.04, and 1:11.04—and took the field into the stretch before Transduction Gold and Jon Court pounced on the pacesetter to gain the advantage mid-stretch. But Spring House, who had been advancing steadily after moving up to fourth on the far turn, was right there, finding room between those two and powering to victory after a single left-handed crack of the whip from Nakatani.
Transduction Gold was a clear second, with You Got Me Rocking holding on for third. The 9-year-old Runaway Dancer, a multiple graded stakes winner for Dan Hendricks, was never involved in his first start in nearly 10 months.
Spring House appears to have rounded back into solid form after two starts following a trip to Dubai for the Sheema Classic (gr. IT) in March, where he was 10th. Spring House returned in the Eddie Read Handicap (gr. IT), closing for fourth one month ago over the Del Mar turf, but obviously appreciated the extra quarter-mile here. With the Breeders' Cup on a Santa Anita turf course he enjoys, the 6-year-old son of Chester House would have to be considered a major threat.
"He's one of the soundest horses I've ever trained," Canani said of Spring House. "I told Corey just to lay fourth or fifth and then make one big run. He gave the horse a great ride. He trains sensational on this synthetic track. I might have to try to run a race on it sometime."
The dark bay Kentucky-bred chalked up his seventh lifetime win in 33 starts and earned $150,000, which boosted his total to $718,284. Hubbard bred Spring House in Kentucky in partnership.
He paid $3.40, $2.60, and $2.10, topping a $27.60 exacta with grade III winner Transduction Gold, who returned $6.40 and $5 for trainer and owner John Glenney. You Got Me Rocking, a Mike Mitchell trainee who added blinkers for his first stakes start on the grass, was $5.60 to show.
Church Service finished fourth, followed by Tissy Fit, American Imperium, Heroi Do Bafra, Runaway Dancer, and Mr. Universo.
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