Dhaamer wins the Sunset Handicap.

Dhaamer wins the Sunset Handicap.

Benoit Photography

For Ailing Mitchell, Dhaamer Brightens Sunset

Recovering from surgery, trainer on hand as Irish-bred wins easily on closing day.

Trainer Mike Mitchell, who had surgery to remove a tumor from his brain late last month, was on hand as odds-on Dhaamer turned the closing-day Sunset Handicap (gr. IIIT) into a romp at Betfair Hollywood Park July 15 (VIDEO).

Along with wife Denise, daughters McCall and Shea, and numerous other friends and family, Mitchell watched as Dhaamer drew away to win his first graded race easily by 3 1/4 lengths. It was the 64-year-old trainer's first afternoon appearance at the track since undergoing surgery June 29.

The Irish-bred Dhaamer has won consecutive stakes at 1 1/2 miles on the Hollywood turf. Unleashing a devastating turn of foot in upper stretch after trailing his three rivals for most of the journey, the 5-year-old gelding ran like he will be a force as part of a weak local turf division during the upcoming Del Mar meet. He won in a time of 2:29.13 over firm going as Hollywood's spring/summer stand came to a close.

Southern California racing moves to Del Mar July 18.

Dhaamer, who raced in England for trainer John Gosden prior to this season, is owned by Edward Brown Jr. and Jay Manoogian. By Dubai Destination out of the Ahonoora mare Arjuzah, the winning breeder is Shadwell Estate Co.

The win was a family affair. One of the bloodstock agents who facilitated the purchase of the chestnut is Craig Rounsefell, Mitchell’s son-in-law. Julien Leparoux, who is engaged to be married in December to Mitchell’s daughter, Shea, guided 2-5 pick Dhaamer to victory.

Dhaamer was coming off a 4 1/2-length win the 12-furlong Round Table Stakes May 13, his third start in the United States.

Mitchell, one of the most successful trainers in Southern California over the past three decades,  was released from the hospital July 2.

After his second Sunset win—the first was with Star Over the Bay in 2004—Mitchell said he hopes to be at Del Mar about halfway through the 37-day summer season.

“I’m getting stronger,’’ he said. “A few more treatments and then I’m good to go. I’m going to do what my doctors tell me, but that is my plan."

The filly Quaintly, ridden by Japanese star Yuichi Fukunaga, set out on the lead on the backstretch the first time and held a one-length lead over second choice Juniper Pass after a comfortable half-mile in :51.88. The advantage had shrunk to a head as the reached the half-mile pole in 1:41.77.

Dhaamer was poised on the outside at that point for Leparoux, advancing up alongside Romp at the rail in third. Dhaamer angled three wide to tackle the front-runners at the quarter pole and took a narrow advantage into the homestretch. He kicked clear to lead by 2 1/2 lengths mid-stretch, and cruised home under steady handling.

The fifth-leading money-winning jockey in the country in 2012, Leparoux had a welcome birthday gift in his initial collaboration with Dhaamer.

"I couldn't have asked for a better present," said Leparoux, who turned 29 Sunday. "There was a lot of pressure before this race. All the family is here. But he’s a nice horse and won easily today. He was just much the best."

Romp, forced to wait for room along the inside before following Dhaamer wide, finished willingly under Martin Garcia to be second best by 4 1/2 lengths over Quaintly. Juniper Pass, who was in position on the outside rounding the far turn, weakened to finish last.

Dhaamer was a handicap stakes winner at Haydock in August 2011. He began his career in Southern California with a runner-up finish in the Tokyo City Cup (gr. III) at 12 furlongs on the dirt at Santa Anita March 24, losing by a neck to Dynamic Host. Moved to the turf for the San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IIT) April 22, Dhaamer chased in third into the stretch but did not kick on and finished fourth.

Following his sharp Round Table score, Dhaamer continued to work steadily on the Cushion Track at Hollywood.

"We want to have a Breeders' Cup Marathon horse on the dirt," Mitchell said. "He just barely got beat in the Tokyo City."

This year's Breeders' Cup Marathon (gr. II) is at Santa Anita this November.

Dhaamer improved his career record to 5-2-1 in 14 races with earnings of $174,272.

Carrying 118 pounds, Dhaamer paid $2.80 and $2.10. The Argentina-bred Romp returned $5 and completed a $11.60 exacta. There was no show wagering.

Renegade Storm scratched.