Kettle Corn, glued to the rail by jockey Garrett Gomez, slipped by favored Tres Borrachos in deep stretch and held on tenaciously for a half-length victory in the $100,000 Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park Dec. 3 (VIDEO).
The fast-improving Kettle Corn, trained by John Sadler for Lee and Susan Searing's C R K Stable, won the Native Diver in his stakes debut at odds of 8-1. The 4-year-old son of Candy Ride has now won three consecutive races on synthetic tracks since he was transferred to California from Illinois this summer.
Kettle Corn, now four-for-six in his career on synthetic tracks, completed the 1 1/8-mile event in 1:49.03 over Hollywood's Cushion Track. The bay colt, bred in Kentucky by Jim Plemmons, is out of the Lil E. Tee mare Somethingbeautiful.
Sadler said the Godolphin Mile (UAE-II) at Meydan Racecourse this spring could be in Kettle Corn's future.
"We might run him once more and then go to Dubai,’’ he said.
Seven contested the Native Diver, with 119-pound high weight Tres Borrachos -- off his win in the San Diego Handicap (gr. II) this summer -- sent off as the 8-5 favorite. Tres Borrachos ran third in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) last time out at Churchill Downs and has recorded three of his four career victories at Hollywood, including the 2008 Swaps Stakes (gr. II).
Breaking from the rail, Kettle Corn settled along the inside for Gomez in mid-pack as Tres Borrachos, ridden by Joel Rosario, overtook Tweebster and Rafael Bejarano for the early lead. Kettle Corn, with Massone racing to his immediate outside, tracked the front-runners through sensible fractions of :23.51, :47.22, and 1:11.54.
Into the stretch, Tres Borrachos came off the rail a bit, giving Gomez the option of keeping Kettle Corn on the inside. They bid for the lead just past mid-stretch and managed to sneak through the tight opening to get the lead at the sixteenth pole. Kettle Corn, under some right-handed urging, fought hard through deep stretch as Tres Borrachos refused to give in.
“I tried to put him a little closer today because there wasn’t a whole lot of speed," said Gomez, who rode Kettle Corn for the first time. "The horses in front were able to back it up a little bit and I was just trying to get him adapted to the situation. I lost him a little at the three-eighths when they quickened. I just had to wait on him and give him a little confidence.
"When I pointed him to the rail he was very game. In fact, he liked being down there. He just pinned his ears and went on with it.”
The game runner-up Tres Borrachos was clear by 2 1/4 lengths over Tweebster, with Massone another half-length back in fourth.
"It took a great (finish) by the winner to beat us," said Rosario, who previously won at Del Mar and Hollywood on Kettle Corn. "I have to give a lot of credit to my horse. He ran a big race in the Breeders’ Cup and he gave me everything he had today. It was a tough decision (to take off Kettle Corn), but I still think I made the right choice. He just got beat, but that’s racing.”
Eldaafer, Summer Movie, and New York invader Rescue Squad completed the order.
Kettle Corn, trained in Illinois by George Leonard III, improved his career mark to 6-1-1 in 12 starts. The bay colt was coming off a half-length win in an optional claiming allowance at nine furlongs at Hollywood Nov. 17. He has now banked $171,891.
The winner carried 115 pounds and paid $19, $7.40, $3.40 as the fourth choice in the field. Tres Borrachos, who has now won or placed in four of six starts this year for trainer Marty Jones, returned $3.60 and $2.40. The exacta was worth $63.80. Tweebster, racing without blinkers for trainer Bob Baffert, was $2.40 to show in pursuit of his first stakes win.