Favored Unbridled's Note collared El Commodore near mid-stretch en route to his first victory in 10 months, taking the $100,000 Daytona Stakes (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita Park Dec. 28.
The 3-2 pick in a field of seven experienced grass sprinters, Unbridled's Note registered his third win in six tries over the layout. He defeated El Commodore by half a length in a solid time of 1:11.89 for the about 6 1/2-furlong distance on firm going.
Mike McCarty's hard-knocking 4-year-old son of Unbridled's Song put it all together with a perfect stalking trip for regular rider Corey Nakatani and trainer Steve Asmussen. Fifth while saving ground into the lane, he angled off the pine in the drive and outlasted a game El Commodore in the final sixteenth for a narrow victory.
El Commodore, who had taken the lead for jockey Gary Stevens in upper stretch after pacesetter Truest Legend abruptly gave way, was a clear second by 4 1/4 lengths. Gallant Son, overcoming a bad stumble at the start, rallied into contention for Isaias Enriquez but flattened out late for third. Second choice Chips All In ran evenly for fourth.
Truest Legend provided a brisk pace, leading El Commodore through quarter mile fractions of :21.80 and :43.36.
Bred in Kentucky by Gulf Coast Farms and the Unbridled's Song Syndicate out of the winning Siberian Express mare Siberian Fur, Unbridled's Note snapped a five-race losing streak since taking the Joe Hernandez Handicap down the hillside Feb. 23.
He finished in a triple dead heat for second with Chips All In as the even money choice in his most recent try in the Hollywood Turf Express Dec. 8 at Betfair Hollywood Park, and was a close fourth behind Mizdirection in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IT) a month before that. The bay colt was second by a half-length to Mizdirection in the 2012 edition of that Breeders' Cup event.
"He loves this course and he got a lot better trip than he got at Hollywood," said Scott Blasi, Asmussen's assistant. "We were happy with where we were at. Corey gave him a great ride.
"We'll have him here for the winter and hopefully we'll have a series of races to run him in. He likes the course here, so this is the right place to have him. He's actually run well on the dirt here, too, if you look at his form, so we'll just see what's next."
Nakatani said he was to blame for Unbridled's Note's most recent loss, but said it was a different story this time.
"Today we got the trip we wanted to get and it all worked out," Nakatani said. "As honest as he is and as hard-trying a colt as he is, I just have to thank the connections for keeping me on him. He's a gem to ride and he's only getting better with age. He's back, he's at his home track now, and it was a great win."
The victory improved Unbridled Note's career mark to 5-3-4 in 16 starts with earnings of $636,683. Unbridled's Note was purchased for $140,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company 2011 Selected Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training. He brought $150,000 as a yearling at Keeneland in September 2010.
Toting 119 pounds, Unbridled's Note returned $5, $3.20, and $2.40. El Commodore, a veteran of 31 turf appearances making his first try over the hillside course, paid $6.80 and $3.80. The exacta was worth $28.20. Gallant Son, coming off a victory in the Oakland Stakes on the Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields, paid $3.40 to show.
Enriquez said Gallant Son grabbed a quarter and tore his shoe apart at the start.
"The first jump, he went to his knees, but I wasn't going to force him after that," Enriquez said. "I was going to nurse him because he's such a nice horse, but after a sixteenth of a mile, he grabbed the bit and said let's go. I said, all right, boy, if you wish, we're going to go. He's all heart. He's the best horse I ever rode in my life."
Chips All In, who carried top weight of 124 pounds, was followed by Handsome Mike , Ain't No Other, and Truest Legend, who was vanned off the course after pulling up.