If you saw Desert Code's dramatic come-from-behind win in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint last fall, this victory was nothing like that one. Instead, Desert Code took the lead shortly after the start of the $100,000 Daytona Handicap (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) Feb. 15 on the same hillside turf course at Santa Anita and was never threatened.
So much for needing a race. Though this was Desert Code's first start since winning the inaugural BC Turf Sprint Oct. 25, the multiple graded stakes winner showed no rust while cruising to a 2 1/2-length win over Euroglide. The clocking for the about 6 1/2-furlong distance was 1:12.58 on a turf course listed as "good." It was about a second slower than Desert Code ran last time.
David Hofmans trains the millionaire Desert Code for Susan Osborne's Tarabilla Farms. Desert Code ran 11th in last year's Daytona, which was extended graded status for the first time this year.
The 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of E Dubai is at home on either a synthetic track or turf, but he's particularly nasty on the hillside course, where he now has five wins in seven starts. In the Breeders' Cup, Desert Code dropped all the way out of it coming down the hill and rallied in breathtaking fashion in the stretch to get up by a half-length over Diabolical.
The Daytona field broke evenly and Desert Code, leaving from the rail with regular rider Aaron Gryder aboard, surprisingly went to the lead when Guns On the Table and Euroglide took back. The 2-1 favorite, carrying top weight of 122 pounds, dictated the pace while posting reasonable fractions of :22.29 and :44.38 as Euroglide and others stalked.
When the field reached the main track crossover, Desert Code was in command by a couple of lengths and running comfortably. Late runners Sky Cape and Dark islander were both in position to kick on, but they never fired, and no one else presented much of a threat through the homestretch, either. Desert Code won in a drive under moderate urging.
"When he left he gate as well as he did, I just decided to drop his head and let him get away from them a little bit," Gryder said. "They decided to take Euroglide back and that helped us, too. I know David thought maybe he’d need a race, but I’ve been working him and he’s worked well. He may’ve gotten a little tired today, but he wasn’t slowing down any.”
Hofmans said he wanted Desert Code closer to the lead than usual.
“I expected him to be lying second or third, because I thought there was some speed in there," he said. "The fractions were pretty slow for coming down the hill, but that’s why he’s so versatile. We thought there was a lot of speed in there, and I told Aaron to use his judgment. It looked like they all broke well, but everybody jumped back, so he kicked on. They went :44 today; in the Breeders’ Cup, they went :41 and 4/5. That’s a big difference. I thought maybe he would need this race, but I was wrong.”
Hofmans said he didn’t know what race might be next for Desert Code, but that he might try synthetic or stretching him out.
Euroglide, with Michael Baze aboard, was second best all the way around while finishing three-quarters of a length better than Guns On the Table and Tyler Baze, who fought on for third.
Desert Code won for the seventh time in 20 lifetime starts while boosting his earnings to $1,088,939. The Daytona win was worth $60,000.
Classic Star bred the winner, who is out of the Lost Code mare Chatta Code.
Desert Code paid $6.20, $4, and $3 while topping a $2 exacta worth $40.40. Euroglide, who had a two-race win streak snapped for trainer Peter Eurton, returned $7.40 and $5. Guns On the Table, trained by Bob Baffert, was $6.20 to show.
It was nearly two lengths to the Irish-bred Dark Islander in fourth, followed by Big Bad Leroybrown, Sky Cape, Majestic Diamond, and Z Humor.