By Jerry Bossert
Tom's Tribute took advantage of a slow start from heavy favorite Obviously to take the $250,000 Del Mar Mile (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) by a length over Rock Me Baby with Handsome Mike another half-length back in third.
Obviously, the 2-5 favorite who won the Del Mar Mile the past two years and was a perfect 3-for-3 over the Jimmy Durante Turf Course, bobbled at the start before rushing up to set the early pace under for Joe Talamo.
Despite the slow start, he blitzed through a first quarter in a sizzling :22.20 and the half-mile in :45.32 while opening a four-length lead. After reaching the quarter pole in 1:09.42, Obviously was still leading by two lengths at midstretch before weakening to fourth, beaten 2 1/4 lengths.
Racing in fourth through the first half-mile under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, Tom's Tribute circled past the tiring leaders turning for home, easily taking command past midstretch to prevail as the 3-1 second choice.
"I thought the pace would be slower and we would be right behind," said winning trainer James Cassidy after his first victory in the Del Mar Mile. "When I saw 22 for the first quarter I thought we had a chance. It's a great feeling. He's a wonderful horse. It's nice to get him here and do this."
Cassidy indicated that Tom's Tribute would be pointed toward the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) Nov. 1 at Santa Anita Park.
Rock Me Baby, saving ground toward the rear of the pack, was moving with Tom's Tribute into the lane but had to wait briefly for room before emerging from between horses to secure the runner-up spot under Corey Nakatani. Handsome Mike stalked the pace from third with Mario Gutierrez throughout.
Longshots Tigah, He Be Fire N Ice, and Alpha Bullet, who pressed Obviously for the first half-mile before stopping, completed the order of finish in the seven-horse field.
Owned by the Braly Family Trust, this was the sixth win from 13 career starts for Tom's Tribute, a 4-year-old son of Lion Heart. In his prior start, Tom's Tribute captured his first grade I win when he took the Eddie Read Stakes from Del Mar July 20 by 1 1/4 lengths.
Unraced at 2, Tom's Tribute won three of seven starts as a 3-year-old last year, highlighted by a victory in the Uniformity Stakes at Santa Anita.
In 2014, Tom's Tribute has won three of six starts, also taking the Thunder Road Stakes at Santa Anita April 6 in addition to the Eddie Read.
Smith has been aboard Tom's Tribute for all six of the colt's wins.
"He's just a great rider," Cassidy said of Smith. "He's just fabulous. He read the race perfectly leaving the gate."
Smith, who also won the 2002 edition of the Del Mar Mile aboard Congaree , earned his meet-leading seventh stakes victory at the Del Mar meet with Tom's Tribute.
Bred by Laura M. McKinney and Ouisha McKinney, Tom's Tribute was a $310,000 purchase by Mary Braley from the 2012 March Ocala Breeders Sale. Tom's Tribute is out of the dam Halloween Fun, by El Prado, and was foaled on March 6, 2010 in Kentucky.
Tom's Tribute completed the mile in 1:33.75, returning $8.20, $4.20, and $6.40. Rock Me Baby paid $7.20 and $13.40, while Handsome Mike returned $29.20 to show.