Casino Host, a recent addition to the Southern California male turf division, conquered the 1 3/8-mile distance in his first try with a late-running victory in the $200,000 Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) Aug. 25 (VIDEO) .
The Del Mar victory sewed up a berth for Casino Host in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) as part of the Cup's "Win & You're In" challenge series. The 4-year-old son of Dynaformer is owned by Gary and Mary West and is trained by Ron Ellis.
The 1 1/2-mile Breeders' Cup Turf is Nov. 3 at Santa Anita Park.
Casino Host, angled to the outside for the drive by Joe Talamo, swept past Fire With Fire in deep stretch and held on gamely to win by a neck as 6-5 choice Dhaamer charged home late. Casino Host ran the 11 furlongs in 2:14.77 on firm turf.
"It got a little close there at the end, but he was game and battled when they came to him," Ellis said. "It's nice to know he can go that far going on to the Breeders' Cup. We'll probably have one more race in between."
It was the second start at Del Mar this meet for Casino Host, who was a closing third behind Acclamation in the 1 1/8-mile Eddie Read Stakes (gr. IT) July 17. Casino Host was previously based on the East Coast with Chad Brown. The dark bay or brown colt won the Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots for Brown April 1.
"It all unfolded just like I hoped," said Talamo, who also rode Casino Host in the Eddie Read. "We got out right and he was running. Good thing, too. Garrett's horse (Dhaamer) was really running at the end. We had to work hard to hold him off."
Colts Neck Stable bred Casino Host in Kentucky. The $290,000 Keeneland September yearling in 2009, purchased by Ben Glass, agent, is out of the stakes-placed Seeking the Gold mare Ensenada.
Sent off as the third choice in the field of eight at odds of 7-2, Casino Host raced mid-pack toward the inside as Worth Repeating set a deliberate tempo while leading Fire With Fire for most of the journey. Casino Host appeared to be in trouble on the final turn when trapped behind horses, but Talamo found a seam to angle his mount toward the outside as the field reached the top of the stretch.
Fire With Fire took the lead from Worth Repeating to gain a narrow advantage in the lane but could not hold off the powerful charge from Casino Host. Urged home by Talamo after getting the lead, Casino Host held on gamely as Irish-bred Dhaamer launched an all-out bid. The recent Sunset Handicap (gr. IIIT), who had followed Casino Host through the same seam at the top of the lane, was quickly cutting into the leader's margin under Garrett Gomez but ran out of time at the wire.
"I just was stuck all the way around," Gomez said "I tried to move up and they all moved up and I'm five wide. I try to take back and save ground and they slow it down. I just couldn't get a spot with him. Lost way too much ground. He was running at the end, but we ran out of race."
It was one length farther back to Fire With Fire, ridden by Martin Garcia. Worth Repeating held fourth, followed by Interaction, Hog's Hollow, Dynamic Host, and Brushburn.
The opening half-mile in the marathon event went in :50.06, with the mile clocked in 1:39.71.
Casino Host's fourth lifetime win in 15 races increased his earnings to $575,175.
"We planned on laying a little closer today," Ellis said after his first Del Mar Handicap win. "I took him back too far purposely last time (in the Eddie Read) because he had been shipping all around and wasn't at full strength. We got him a race over the course and it set him up real well."
The winner carried 119 pounds and paid $9.60, $4.20, $3.40. Dhaamer, who's two-race stakes win streak came to an end for trainer Mike Mitchell, returned $3 and $2.60 while filling out a $24.40 exacta. Fire With Fire, making his graded stakes debut for trainer Neil Drysdale, paid $6.
Temple's Door was scratched.