Cambina, narrowly avoiding a collision in mid-stretch, re-gathered herself and surged between horses in the final strides to finish in a dead-heat for the win with pacesetting Nereid in a spectacular finish to the $250,000 American Oaks (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park July 16 (VIDEO) .
The dead-heat was the first in a grade I at Hollywood Park since the Richard Mandella-trained pair of Beautiful Melody and Reluctant Guest finished on even terms in the Beverly Hills Handicap June 30, 1990. The most recent stakes dead-heat at Hollywood prior to the American Oaks was between Surya and Tout Charmant in the Dahlia Handicap (gr. IIT) Dec. 21, 2002
It was also the first grade I victory for both 3-year-old fillies. Nereid, in fact, was making her stakes debut for trainer John Shirreffs and has now won three in a row. Cambina, trained by red-hot Jeff Bonde, was coming off a fast-closing third-place finish in the nine-furlong Honeymoon Handicap (gr. IT) at Hollywood June 11.
Star Billing, the Shirreff-trained stablemate to Nereid, was expected to set the pace in the 1 1/4-mile grass test before bobbling after the break. She finished a head back while rallying strongly for third in the field of six, with Entrustment another head back in fourth.
Kentucky invader Bizzy Caroline, the 6-5 choice after handily winning the Regret Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs one month ago, finished willingly as well after pressing the pace. She was fifth, beaten by less than a length for it all. The final time was 2:01.46 over firm going.
Nereid, ridden by Joe Talamo, showed speed on the outside as her stablemate struggled at the start and took the early lead from Love TheWay Youare. She led Bizzy Caroline and Entrustment through soft fractions of :24.89, :48.16 and 1:12.76 as Cambina and Martin Garcia settled a couple of lengths behind the remainder of the field.
The front-runner kicked clear leaving the final turn and led by two lengths at mid-stretch as Cambina angled off the inside a bit and progressed into fourth. Cambina was charging between horses for Garcia but was forced to steady hard off of heels as Entrustment drifted in slightly.
Garcia was up in the saddle at that point but began riding Cambina again and the Irish-bred filly came on gamely while slicing into Nereid's lead. Those two hit the wire together with Star Billing, rallying on the outside for Joel Rosario, Entrustment, and Bizzy Caroline right behind them. Love TheWay Youare trailed.
"I told Rosario to go to the lead and I was going to stalk, but his horse stumbled a little bit," Talamo said in describing his trip on Nereid. "Then I was sitting off Victor (Espinoza on Love Theway Youare) and his horse kind of propped and I inherited the lead. I really didn’t want to. She was doing it so easy.
"When I hit the three-eighths pole, I said, ‘Man if she kicks, she’s going to be tough to beat.’ And that was only her fourth start and first time against stakes winners. She can do anything. She didn’t even start running today until she got to the sixteenth pole. When she felt them coming, she really kicked on. She’s got a very, very bright future.”
Garcia, after the rough ride on Cambina, said he would look forward to a rematch with Nereid.
"I don’t know who came in or out, but I had to completely pull her up," Garcia said of the near-collision. "It’s a good thing I didn’t fall. I rode her with so much confidence. I know she can really finish, that’s the way she likes to run."
Owned by E.N. Kronfeld, Nereid won for the third time at the meet, breaking her maiden May 7 and winning a first-level allowance June 2. All three of her wins came on the turf. The daughter of Rock Hard Ten--Dowry (by Belong to Me) was bred by Mr. and Mrs. Emler Neuman in Kentucky and sold for $190,000 as a yearling at Keeneland in September 2009. She has now earned $168,800 with three wins and a second in four starts.
Shirreffs, who won the American Oaks last year with Harmonious, said he ran both Star Billing and Nereid in the race because he felt they both deserved a shot to win a grade I.
“Having two horses in the race, I thought that Star Billing would have the lead and Nereid could go to a stalking position," he said. "So when the gate opened and Star Billing stumbled, everything changed. You always worry late in the race, the last two or three strides is where a horse is susceptible. You wonder where the turf course wire is. When you’re watching the race in real time, it’s hard to predict exactly where the wire is."
Cambina, a diminutive daughter of Hawk Wing--Await (by Peintre Celebre), posted her sixth win in 12 lifetime starts for owners Anthony Bilich, Jason Cline, George Schmitt, and others. Carradale bred Cambina, who has now earned $370,426 in her career. She finished third in both the Senorita Stakes (gr. IIIT) and Honeymoon at the current meet after winning the La Habra (gr. IIIT), China Doll and Providencia (gr. IIT) stakes in succession at Santa Anita earlier in the year.
“It’s always good to win," Bonde said. "John Shirreffs is a good friend of mine and if I had to tie with somebody, I’m glad it was him. I was very concerned there when she got tangled up, and to her credit she re-rallied and made a race of it. She’s a very game horse with a good turn of foot."
In a tightly contested division in Southern California, Senorita winner Star Billing was coming off a runner-up finish in the Honeymoon.
Under equal weights of 121 pounds, Nereid paid $5.40, $5, $3.20 as the fourth choice. Cambina, sent off as the third choice, paid $4.60, $3.80, $2.80. Second pick Star Billing was $3.40 to show. The exacta, with Nereid over Cambina, was $21.80. The other way paid $23.80.