Bettys Bambino closed with a rush in his stakes debut to capture the $100,000 Daytona (gr. IIIT) in the final North American graded race of the year Dec. 28 at Santa Anita Park (VIDEO).
The 4-year-old son of Unusual Heat registered his fourth win from five starts over Santa Anita's hillside turf course, completing the about 6 1/2-furlong distance in 1:12.49 over firm going.
With Martin Garcia aboard once again, Bettys Bambino won his third consecutive race, sweeping past 13-10 favorite Sweet Swap in deep stretch and reaching the wire half a length in front of fellow closer Lil Bit O'Fun.
"My horse hit me in the head and then he hit me in the (right) knee, too, against the gate," a gimpy Garcia said after the race. "He was leaning on my knee that was in between him and the gate. In the moment the win was just exciting with the adrenaline. Now...I just need to go to the doctor to get checked out."
Trained by Peter Eurton, Bettys Bambino was sent off as the 3-1 second choice in the field of nine. The dark bay gelding is a California homebred for owners Sharon Alesia, Michael Mellen's Bran Jam Stable, and Joe Ciaglia's Ciaglia Racing. Bettys Bambino won his prior two races—both down the hillside—by a combined 9 1/2 lengths in allowance company, but was making his first appearance since Oct. 16.
Longshots Fleet Eagle and Eddie's First vied down the hill through opening fractions of :21.85 of :43.70 before Eddies' First took over in the homestretch. Sweet Swap, stalking behind the leaders at the rail under Corey Nakatani, was forced to wait for room as the field crossed the dirt portion of the course.
Sweet Swap finally got clear sailing to advance from between horses and grab a narrow lead near the furlong marker, but after angling back to the inside did not have enough late kick to withstand the fast closers.
Bettys Bambino, fifth midstretch before powering home on the outside under left-handed urging by Garcia, had first run on Lil Bit O'Fun to the extreme outside, and he held that one safe as both swept by the favorite in the closing stages.
Nakatani was disappointed in the outcome.
"I was in a garden spot," he said. "I thought I had a ton of horse and I just got out-kicked today. I wouldn't have changed my positioning with anyone, he finished up good...we just got out-kicked."
Bettys Bambino, paying $8, $4, and $3 across the board, posted his fifth career win from nine starts while boosting his earnings to $258,036. Lil Bit O'Fun, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, finished 1 1/2 lengths clear in second and returned $5.20 and $3.20. He completed a $33.80 exacta. Sweet Swap paid $2.40 while settling for third.
Play Hard to Get finished fourth, followed by Ankeny Hill, Mr. Sexy, Fleet Eagle, Eddie's First, and Clubhouse Ride . Indianapolis and Majestic Kitten scratched.
The winner is out of the High Brite mare Brite Betty, a four-time winner of $150,667 in her racing career. She has produced four winners from four foals to race. Brite Betty's dam, Balboa Betty, is a full sister to Horse of the Year and WinStar Farm sire Tiznow .
Eurton said he plans to stick with races on the hillside in the immediate future for Bettys Bambino.
"He loves this course, and who knows, he might like a mile, but we never really had the opportunity," he said. "He was scratched at Del Mar going to the gate in a mile turf race when he blew his shoe and they had to scratch him.
"But he does love the downhill (course) and I don't think we'll ever change that. He needed a good (post position) draw because he kind of missed a little time after we scratched him at Del Mar, so it was a little funky."