Lucky Primo captures Cal Cup Classic while returning to dirt

Lucky Primo refused to lose the Cal Cup Classic for a second straight year (Benoit Photos)

Lucky Primo just missed by a neck in last year's California Cup Classic at Santa Anita, but returned for Saturday's 23rd running to make up for that tough beat with a half-length score in the $175,000 contest.

The six-year-old kept in close attendance to the pacesetting Got Even through opening fractions of :23 4/5, :47 2/5 and 1:11 2/5, before grabbing command and holding that rival on the wire to stop the clock in 1:42 for 8 1/2 furlongs on the fast main track.

Lucky Primo sported odds of 5-1 when the pools closed and paid $11.80, $7.80 and $4.60 with jockey Tyler Baze aboard.

"Lucky Primo, I love that name," Baze smiled. "At this stage of my career I'm definitely appreciating things more, especially the shots everybody's giving me right now. I've got a whole lot of live horses that people have been putting me on and it's just a blessing."

Lucky Primo is campaigned by trainer and co-breeder Joshua Litt's J B K Stables and Litt's brother and fellow co-breeder Jason.

"Twenty-three and four the first quarter, that's a gift in this kind of race. You couldn't ask for anything better," Joshua Litt stated. "We figured we'd sit behind (trainer) Pete Miller('s horse Got Even). I thought they'd go faster than that but I'm certainly not complaining."

John Scott, the 7-5 favorite, ran third another three-quarters length runner-up Got Even.

"(Jockey) Victor (Espinoza) just said that he broke slowly and he had to kind of urge him to get him to the bit," trainer Carla Gaines commented on John Scott's effort. "He wasn't really that interested today."

Lucky Primo was making his third appearance on Cal Cup Day, having captured the Juvenile in 2008 after a close third-placing in his stakes bow, the I'm Smokin, at Del Mar. The bay son of Atticus has been plagued by injuries, as evidenced by his not returning to the races until March 2010. He racked a 1-1-0 mark from four starts that year before being sidelined yet again.

Lucky Primo did a bit better last season, posting a 5-1-2-2 record that included a win in Golden State Cup and a third-place effort in the California Dreamin' Handicap before his Cal Cup Classic run. The six-year-old came into Saturday's race off just two races this year, taking an allowance on July 14 and finishing fourth in an optional claimer at Del Mar on August 30.

Lucky Primo's return to the winner's circle in this spot improved his career line to 16-6-3-3, and he's now earned $437,616. The bay's trainer wouldn't commit to a next race, instead saying, "We go race by race with him. If he's good enough we'll go on with him. Sometimes you have to give him time off. He's just a solid, solid Cal-bred. Look at the size of him. He's a big, huge horse, tries really hard, he's extremely talented.

"He's always had soundness issues. For us, we hope to make it to these races, so we kind of strategize it so we can make it here in pretty good shape."

Tiz Flirtatious did more than just flirt with victory in the Cal Cup Distaff (Benoit Photos)

In the first division of the $100,000 Cal Cup Distaff earlier on the card, Pamela C. Ziebarth's homebred Tiz Flirtatious returned from a more than eight-month layoff to score by 1 3/4 lengths for trainer Martin Jones. Jockey Joel Rosario guided the four-year-old daughter of Tizbud to the outside in the stretch and the filly flew home to stop the clock in 1:11 3/5 for about 6 1/2 furlongs on the firm downhill turf.

"She's a pretty nice filly," Rosario said. "I've rode her before and she acted really good last time I rode her. She was still rank in her last race, maybe that's why she got tired. Today she was really relaxed and she covered a lot of ground when I asked her to run. She looked good."

Despite the long break, Tiz Flirtatious was sent off the 7-2 favorite in the race and rewarded her backers with payouts of $9.20, $5.80 and $3.60.

The lightly raced miss owns just five starts now, having opened her career last October at Santa Anita with a half-length victory against maiden special weight rivals. Tiz Flirtatious followed up 27 days later at the same track with another half-length win, this time in an allowance, and closed out her short-lived sophomore campaign with a 1 1/2-length victory in the Cat's Cradle Handicap at Hollywood Park.

The California-bred lass attempted to continue her winning ways in the new year, taking on fellow four-year-olds in the Grade 2 La Canada, but wound up third that day and has been sidelined ever since. This return victory boosted her winnings to $194,800 to go along with her 5-4-0-1 record.

Two races later in the second division of the Cal Cup Distaff, SLO Racing Stable's Bella Viaggia continued her winning ways with a two-length score under jockey Joe Talamo. The Mike Puype pupil was made the 9-1 fifth pick in the nine-distaffer field despite boasting triumphs in her past two races, and gave nice payouts of $21.40, $9.60 and $6.40.

Bella Viaggia saved ground when settling along the inside while running over the downhill turf and inched away late to secure the victory in 1:12.

"Before she actually ran I worked her about seven or eight times so I was very familiar with her," Talamo said. "We just had a great trip. Mike had her ready to go today. The rail opened up good and we just shot on through."

"It was a big race; big effort. She has a great future," Puype acknowledged. "When horses want to win like that, and they come out running, those are seasoned horses. She showed a big race today to be like that.

"Let me tell you, she works this main track like no other. She runs on synthetic too, and trains on the dirt better than both of them so I think I can go anywhere where there's a race. Her weight is unbelievable right now. She looks great."

Bella Viaggia ran second in her career debut at Hollywood Park on May 26, then returned two months later to break her maiden at Del Mar by 2 3/4 lengths. The Good Journey sophomore was the 2-5 favorite in that contest, and next out was sent off the even-money choice when taking an optional claimer back at the seaside track.

The winner's share from the Distaff nearly doubled Bella Viaggia's earnings to $155,000, and the bay filly's line now stands at 4-3-1-0.

Maui Mark has proven to be a wise claim for his connections following a win in the Cal Cup Sprint (Benoit Photos)

Sandwiched between the two Distaff divisions was the $100,000 Cal Cup Sprint, which went to 8-1 choice Maui Mark with Garrett Gomez aboard. The seven-year-old gelding saved ground while chasing the early pace in midpack before angling out for a rallying win down the center of the track in 1:09 for six furlongs on the main track.

Maui Mark had a half-length to spare on Ain't No Other when hitting the wire, and gave back $19, $10.20 and $6.80 to his supporters. His scorecard now reads 26-10-0-6, $364,568.

"It wasn't the smoothest of trips," Gomez admitted. "I squeezed him early just to help him get on his feet and he kind of struggled, so then I just tried to find a rhythm for him and a spot that he was traveling well in. I got to the turn, and he tried to spread the turn a little bit, so I got him back inside.

"Once I got him lined up and started focusing on making some kind of run, I pointed him where I wanted to go and his confidence started growing because he knew he was getting out from behind the dirt. He made a huge run and finished up well."

Maui Mark was claimed by trainer Bob Hess Jr. for Michael P. Carter and Charles Galea out of a 5 3/4-length victory in a $20,000 claimer on March 15. In his four races following that barn transfer the Unusual Heat chestnut has been 2-0-1 in California and New York. He entered this one, his first stakes try since making his black-type debut in the Barretts Stakes as a sophomore, off a fifth-placing in a Saratoga handicap on July 25.

"We claimed him, took him East, did pretty well, then he injured himself. He pulled a left stifle in that last race (at Saratoga), so we brought him home and freshened him up," Hess explained.

"Garrett rode him great. I didn't really tell him anything, other than when you go, get in the clear, because he's a little timid inside. He'll run inside, but when you really need to knuckle on him, you want to be in the clear. That's all I told Garrett. I said he can be in front or last, it doesn't really matter. If you look at his form, he's very versatile.

"I knew he was good enough (to win this race), minus the nine horse (8-5 favorite Derby Gold who finished seventh)...however, my horse still was only about 85 percent weight-wise and coat-wise today, so that was a big concern for me. I was nervous."

Hess added that the On Trust Handicap at Hollywood Park going 7 1/2 furlongs on November 17 would be considered for Maui Mark's next race.

Monument made a case for entry into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in three weeks when taking the $250,000 Cal Cup Juvenile by 2 3/4 lengths under jockey Martin Garcia. The Cindago two-year-old tracked behind swift early splits of :22 4/5, :46 3/5 and 1:10 3/5 set by Strong Wind, before taking over and drawing off to complete 1 1/16 miles on the main track in 1:44 4/5.

Monument ran a bit greenly in the lane, ducking in from the right-handed whip in late stretch, but was still best of this bunch despite being sent off the 5-1 fourth pick. Running for breeders Lee and Susan Searing's C R K Stable, he returned $12, $5.80 and $4.80.

"He was back and forth today," Garcia said. "I think he looked too much at the people in the grandstands. I had a lot of horse, that's why he had time to look around. This was the first time he's run at a distance, and it looks like he likes it."

The Humancomplaint, the 2-1 favorite, finished a one-paced seventh off a pair of seconds at Del Mar.

"It was the distance. He didn't want to go two turns, definitely," jockey Rafael Bejarano asserted of The Humancomplaint's run. "He doesn't like this track, 100 percent. It was both things. He would run better on synthetic and a shorter distance. He doesn't want to go two turns."

Monument entered this race off his first career loss when runner-up while making his stakes bow in the C. B. Afflerbaugh Stakes at Fairplex Park in Pomona, California. Prior to that one, the dark bay colt captured his career debut in a $40,000 maiden claimer at Del Mar before taking a starter allowance back at that same venue in August.

"He trained very well," trainer John Sadler said. "He was a little green at Pomona. He won his first two starts so we thought we had a good shot.

"Not really," Sadler replied when asked if he knew where Monument was going next. "We haven't come up with an overall plan. We'll probably keep him in the state-bred program for now, but he is an improving horse and we're excited."

With the Cal Cup Juvenile added to his resume, Monument owns a 3-1-0 mark from four starts and $195,500 in career earnings.

Tilde just got the best of a tenacious Doinghardtimeagain in the Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies (Benoit Photos)

Cal Cup Day wrapped up in the $250,000 Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies with 2-1 favorite Tilde just eking out the victory by a half-length over stubborn 13-1 shot Doinghardtimeagain. The pair hooked up rounding the turn, with Doinghardtimeagain just yielding in the final strides to allow Tilde to stop the clock in 1:46 2/5.

Doinghardtimeagain gunned it from the start, keeping continuous pressure on Bert's Altercation as she set swift splits of :22 2/5 and :46 2/5. The latter filly just couldn't sustain her momentum and began fading, allowing Doinghardtimeagain to take command through six furlongs in 1:12 1/5. Tidle, meanwhile, had been biding her time in third behind those two and quickly took after the new leader entering the final turn.

Jockey Rafael Bejarano had to keep after Tilde in the lane as Doinghardtimeagain clung tenaciously to her inside, but she got the job done to vindicate her favoritism and return $6.20, $4.40 and $3.20.

"My horse broke so beautiful from the gate and I just wanted to make sure I put her in the right spot," Bejarano explained. "When I found my position, I just tried to get her comfortable and not rush her too much. When I saw somebody moving from the inside I tried to keep my position and not get pushed out. As soon as I came to the stretch I let her go and she came running.

"She was flying in the end. This is a good filly. She's getting better. This was her first time at a distance and I had so much horse in the end."

Campaigned by breeder and trainer Mike Harrington, Tilde brought wins in the Generous Portion and C.T.B.A. Stakes into this one. Her only loss thus far came as a third-placing in the Cinderella Stakes at Hollywood Park in mid-June. The gray juvenile daughter of Swiss Yodeler is now 5-4-0-1, $332,560, lifetime.

"I was concerned about the distance, but I thought her heart would carry her through and it did," Harrington confessed. "She's a really, really game filly, but she showed that to me at Del Mar, which is really interesting. The first time I ran there down there, I thought I did a really, really poor job of preparing her -- and she won. I wasn't real excited about the job I did coming into this race and she still won. It just goes to show you good horses will overcome their trainers."

When asked about what's next for his filly, Harrington quipped, "I think I'll retire and breed her," before getting serious.

"I don't think the purses are as big, but there are two more races for her -- stakes -- and you'd have to think that off this race, if she stays sound, she'll be tough in both of them."

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