Determined Via Villaggio advanced along the rail to challenge overwhelming favorite Sister Moon in the stretch, then held on for a half-length upset in the $98,000 Railbird Stakes (gr. III) at Betfair Hollywood Park May 19 (VIDEO).
Steve Beneto's 10-1 shot Via Villaggio, ridden by Martin Pedroza, registered her first stakes victory for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Hollendorfer earlier scratched grade I winner Killer Graces from the race, reducing the field of sophomore fillies in the seven-furlong Railbird to four.
Beneto celebrated the victory two days after he was appointed to the California Horse Racing Board by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Via Villaggio, a daughter of Bernardini out of the grade II-winning Irish mare Hoh Buzzard, by Alhaarth, was bred in Kentucky by Michael Lynch. The dark bay or brown filly sold for $300,000 as a Keeneland September yearling in 2010.
Sister Moon, a runaway winner in two of her three prior starts for trainer John Sadler, was sent off as the 1-20 favorite.
With Garrett Gomez aboard, Sister Moon went to the front from her rail post and drifted out while Dijarvo dueled on her outside through quarter-mile splits of :22.92 and :46.54 on Hollywood's Cushion Track. Via Villaggio stalked on the inside in third with Lady Fairbanks racing in fourth.
Via Villaggio bid along the open rail to make it three across in upper stretch. Sister Moon, between horses, kept a short lead before Via Villaggio gained a slim advantage past the furlong pole. Via Villaggio inched ahead under a left-handed crack of the whip from Pedroza in deep stretch and repelled Sister Moon in the final strides for a game victory.
The winning time was 1:23.03.
"When I saw that filly (Sister Moon) getting out, I thought maybe Garrett (Gomez) was just setting me up to get in there, but I could see she kept drifting out," Pedroza said. "I didn't want to take any chances on getting stopped, so I got up inside when I could. It was better to take a chance and move a little early rather than having to check and lose my momentum."
Sister Moon finished 4 1/2 lengths clear of the British-bred Dijarvo, who weakened in the final furlong with Martin Garcia aboard.
After breaking her maiden and winning an allowance/optional claiming race at Golden Gate Fields, Via Villaggio had two starts on grass prior to returning to synthetic ground in the Railbird. She finished fifth in the Senorita Stakes (gr. IIIT) on the Hollywood turf in her most recent try May 5.
"This filly got in trouble last time, so it was hard to gauge what she might or might not do today," Hollenodrfer said. "I wanted to try her on the main track at Betfair Hollywood Park. We thought she was training well on it so we gave it a try and it looked like it worked pretty well."
The first two finishers are likely to meet again in the Hollywood Oaks (gr. II) June 23.
With the victory, Via Villaggio improved her career record to 3-3-2 in 10 races with earnings of $121,070.
Via Villaggio paid $23 and $3, and topped a $25.80 exacta. Sister Moon returned $2.10. There was no show wagering.