Recovered from stomach ulcers, Mensa Heat was on top of his game once again as he defeated a solid group of California-bred sprinters in the $84,500 On Trust Handicap, the closing day feature at Hollywood Park Dec. 18. (VIDEO)
Joe Talamo was aboard the 5-year-old son of Unusual Heat who took over from 18-1 shot Legal Separation in the final furlong and proved best under right-handed urging. Mensa Heat completed the 7 1/2-furlong On Trust in 1:28.68 over the Cushion Track.
Second choice Mensa Heat was making his first start since finishing last as the 3-2 favorite in the California Cup Sprint Oct. 29 at Santa Anita. The gelding had a bout of colic about a week before the race, trainer Ted H. West explained. Following the subpar effort, he was also found to have been suffering from stomach ulcers.
After treatment he returned to training in mid-November and posted four strong workouts at Santa Anita in preparation for the On Trust. West said beforehand that Mensa Heat, who finished less than a length behind Amazombie in the Ancient Title Stakes (gr. I) Oct. 8, had never been better.
“He tipped his hand in the paddock today and his attitude was really good," West said afterward. "We have a lot of options with him because he likes turf, dirt and synthetic.’’
Peter Redekop owns Mensa Heat, who was bred by Madeline Auerbach and David Abrams. Out of the Ole' mare Chi Chi Nette, Mensa Heat was claimed for $25,000 in April and has been superb all season except for the Cal Cup Sprint. He won for the sixth time in 13 starts this year and has finished in the money in 11 of those races.
"Thankfully, they let me work him every time," said Talamo, Mensa Heat's regular rider. "He was tearing up the track at Santa Anita."
Mensa Heat has won five of eight and earned $248,422 since being claimed.
"They did a great job with him after the claim," Talamo added. "He's kind of a Lava Man story."
In the On Trust, Mensa Heat rated toward the rear of the seven-horse field as Mark the Bench won a tussle for the early lead over Chiloquin coming through the long chute. Mark the Bench showed the way narrowly while clicking off swift fractions of :22.63 and :45.56.
Both of the front-runners were under pressure rounding the turn for home, however, and Legal Separation, in stalking position early on the outside of 2-1 favorite Red Defense, took the lead into the homestretch. Legal Separation inched away to a daylight advantage approaching mid-stretch but could not withstand the powerful charge from Mensa Heat in the final sixteenth of a mile.
"He's such a cool horse—he knows when he's winning," Talamo said. "He's a jockey's dream. Point him in the right direction and off he goes."
Legal Separation, ridden by Victor Espinzoza, held second by a half-length over the late-arriving Spud Spivens and Garrett Gomez. Scofield Barracks was a nose farther back in fourth, followed by Chiloquin, Mark the Bench, and Red Defense.
Mensa Heat, who won three consecutive races prior to his big effort in the Ancient Title, registered his ninth lifetime victory in 41 starts. He has earned $418,758.
The winner carried top weight of 122 pounds and paid $7.40, $4.80, $3.40. Legal Separation, fourth in the Cal Cup Sprint in his most recent try for trainer Ed Moger Jr., returned $16.40 and $7 as the longest shot on the board. The exacta was worth $143.80. Spud Spivens paid $3.20 to show.
As the autumn season drew to a close, Mike Mitchell wrapped up the training title over Bob Baffert and Doug O'Neill. This was Mitchell's third Hollywood fall title but his first since 1996.
“It’s been such a terrific year, I wouldn’t have been sad if I didn’t win the meet,” said Mitchell, who connected on better than 40% of his starters during the 26-day meet. Mitchell has won more than 100 races during 2011 while clicking at better than a 33% clip.
Joel Rosario topped the riding standings in a close battle with perennial nemesis Rafael Bejarano. The 26-year-old native of the Dominican Republic has won three consecutive fall meet titles and six in a row at Hollywood Park.