Sweet August Moon returned to the winner's circle for the first time in more than 17 months when she took an inside path to defeat odds-on favorite Free Flying Soul by 1 3/4 lengths in the $150,000 A Gleam Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood Park July 17 (VIDEO).
With Victor Espinoza aboard, the 13-1 outsider Sweet August Moon took the lead leaving the turn and outfought Free Flying Soul, on the outside with Mike Smith aboard, to register her first win since she captured Las Flores Handicap (gr. III) at Santa Anita in April 2009. The final time for the seven-furlong event for fillies and mares was 1:21.77 over the Cushion Track.
The 5-year-old Malibu Moon mare won three races in a row last year before going to the sidelines after her Las Flores win. She had lost four in a row in 2010 and was coming off a fifth-place finish, 3 1/4 lengths behind the victorious Free Flying Soul, in the Desert Stormer Handicap June 12 at Hollywood.
Brian Koriner, who trains the Pennsylvania-bred mare for Legacy Ranch and Team MacPherson, said the key with Sweet August Moon was patience.
"We just got her to calm down a little bit," he said. "We tracked her this morning. She’s never run with a tongue tie because she’s so ornery. Today we ran her in a tongue tie. There are just a few little things that made the difference.
"It just took a while after the layoff to come around. I’ve always expected her to come back around. The owners were always nervous. One of the guys kept calling and asking ‘what are we going to do with her,’ and I’m like, ‘just give her time.’ "
Breaking from the far outside in the field of six, Sweet August Moon stalked in fourth just off the rail into the turn. As the field fanned out evenly rounding the bend, Sweet August Moon found room on the inside of tiring pacesetter Moon de Frenchto challenge for the lead. She gained a narrow advantage heading into the stretch and inched away to a one-length advantage mid-stretch. Under urging from Espinoza, she continued to hold off Free Flying Soul, who was four wide leaving the turn, all the way to the wire.
“I thought there was going to be a little bit of speed in there but everybody kind of slowed down and they moved out," Espinoza said of the rail opening. "I wanted to save ground at the three-eighths pole and not have to go too wide. I thought I had a chance to win the race but my main thing was to try and save ground. I decided to take a shot by staying on the inside and I got lucky.”
Free Flying Soul, who gave six pounds to the winner while toting top weight of 122, finished 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Will O Way, who was in tight in the stretch run for jockey Tyler Baze but edged late-running Made for Magic by a half- ength. Then came the weakening Emmy Darling and Moon de French, who carved early fractions of :22.69 and :45.66.
Koriner said Sweet August Moon would be pointed to the $150,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap (gr. II) over 6 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar Aug. 22.
Sweet August Moon improved her career mark to 6-1-2 in 16 starts with earnings of $336,396.
Maple Leaf Farm bred the winning dark bay or brown mare. Sweet August Moon is out of the Royal Academy mare Silent Academy.
Sent off as the second-longest shot in the field, Sweet August Moon paid $28.20, $6.60, and $4.80 and topped a $69 exacta. Free Flying Soul returned $2.80 and $2.20. Will O Way was $5 to show.