Improving Awesome Return took control in the stretch and held sway in the final furlong to earn his first stakes win in the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes, the featured event on the California Gold Rush day card at Santa Anita Park April 26. (VIDEO)
A race earlier, favored Rovenna was all out to edge outsider Wonderful Lie by a neck to take the $250,000 Melair Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. (VIDEO)
The California Gold Rush, five stakes for state-breds worth a total of $850,000, was held for the first time at Santa Anita after previously being contested at Hollywood Park.
Ridden by Joe Talamo, 4-1 shot Awesome Return completed the 1 1/8-mile event for 3-year-olds in 1:48.88 on firm turf. The Richard Kritzski homebred son of Decarchy out of the Mr. Broad Blade mare Awesome Broad is trained by Mike Puype.
The bay colt defeated Patriots Rule by three-quarters of a length, with Alert Bay third. Tamarando , the 3-2 favorite in the field of eight who was making his initial start on grass, finished fourth.
Awesome Return tracked a moderate pace from fifth as Pray Hard posted splits of :24.31, :48.81, and 1:13.09 while leading Aotearoa and Kukaluka. Awesome Return launched his bid leaving the far turn three wide to overtake the tiring Aotearoa approaching mid-stretch. He proved best as the late-charging Patriots Rule rallied willingly for Fernando Perez. The stalking Alert Bay, ridden by Tyler Baze, was three-quarters of a length farther back in third.
"I really didn't think I'd be that close, but they were going pretty slow up front," said Talamo, who registered his third win of the day. "His workouts have been unbelievable. We just had a perfect trip and I found an opening at the quarter pole and he did the rest. What makes him so good is he has that big turn of foot and in turf races, you definitely need that to get to certain spots."
Grade I winner Tamarando, who moved with Patriots Rule from near the back of the pack, lacked the needed closing kick. He was followed by Frensham, Aotearoa, Kukaluka, and Pray Hard.
Awesome Return was coming off a nose defeat in an allowance/optional claiming race for state-breds at one mile March 27. In four starts on grass, he has two wins, a second, and a third. Earning $137,500 for the Snow Chief victory, he has banked $201,108 on an overall career mark of 2-1-1 in six races.
"Perfect ride, perfect trip," said Puype. "I was almost worried when he hit the front because he can play around, he's done that each time he's run. He's a talented colt with a bright future but he still had to put it all together today. I couldn't be happier with the way he performed today."
Carrying 118 pounds, Awesome Return paid $10.20, $5.40, and $3.40 as the third choice, topping a $57.80 exacta with Patriots Rule, who returned $6.80 and $4.20. Alert Bay, whose three-race win streak for Northern California trainer Blaine Wright came to an end, paid $3.60.
In the Melair, 2-1 pick Rovenna, ridden by Victor Espinoza, took the lead in upper stretch and battled 23-1 pacesetter Wonderful Lie all the way to the wire to narrowly prevail at 1 1/16 miles in a time of 1:43.86 on fast main track.
Mike Machowsy trains Rovenna for owner/breeder Donald Dizney. The winning bay filly, who won her third race in a row, is by Vronsky out of Amadamprez, by Northern Afleet . Rovenna, stretching out from six furlongs, was coming a 2 3/4-length tally over state-bred fillies in the Evening Jewel Stakes April 5 at Santa Anita.
"She can be on the lead or come from off the pace," Espinoza said. "Especially today, going long, I wanted to save as much as possible. She's maturing."
Rovenna, carrying top weight of 123 pounds, won for the fourth time in nine lifetime starts and boosted her earnings to $397,760.
"She's just game," said Machowsky. "She does everything you ask of her. This is (running) back in three weeks and I've always kind of spaced her races out a little more, but this type of money, how do you pass it up?"
Wonderful Lie, who fought Magic Spot through fast opening splits of :22.73 and :46.33 before being tackled by the winner after six furlongs in 1:10.92, ran second by 5 1/4 lengths over second choice Swiss Lake Yodeler.
Rovenna paid $6, $3.80, and $2.80. The return on Wonderful Lie was $14.40 and $5.20. She completed a $109 exacta. Swiss Lake Yodeler paid $2.60.
Anniversary Kitty was fourth, followed by Harlington's Rose, Magic Spot, and Versye. Shakeitupbetty scratched.
Other winners on the Gold Rush portion of the card were Dancingtothestars ($13.80) in the $98,000 Fran's Valentine Stakes, Storm Fighter ($7.60) in the $125,000 Tiznow Stakes, and Top Kisser in the $125,000 Spring Fever Stakes.