Favored Norvsky, ridden by a red-hot Rafael Bejarano, flew home in the final 100 yards to nab pacesetter Lucky Primo just before the wire to win the $175,000 California Cup Classic presented by City National Bank at Santa Anita Park Oct. 29 (VIDEO).
Bejarano won five times on the Cal Cup card and took four of the five stakes on the program. Norvsky prevailed by a neck over Lucky Primo, who nosed Holladay Road for second.
This year's Cal Cup series marked the return of the popular series of races for state-breds to Santa Anita after it was held at Hollywood Park last year.
An Old English Rancho homebred owned by Bud and Judy Johnston in partnership with Robert Riggio, Norvsky provided some consolation to his connections for the loss of multiple grade I winner Acclamation, who was recently pulled from consideration for this year's Breeders' Cup due to foot problems. Don Warren trains Norvsky, a 5-year-old gelded son of Vronsky out of the Flying Paster mare Fimbrelith.
“It’s great to have the ‘B’ team win for us," Warren said. "The horse is a deep closer, but I just told Rafael not to drop 15 lengths out of it like he sometimes does. Every little bit helps in a race like this.”
It was the first time in the 22 renewals of the Cal Cup Classic that the race was contested on turf, which worked to the advantage of Norvsky, who completed the 1 1/8-mile event in 1:46.97. Norvsky has been superb on grass in his past six starts, winning the California Dreamin' Stakes at Del Mar in July and finishing second in the other four tries.
Sent off at 3-2 odds, Norvsky chased the pace as Lucky Primo hustled to the front for Victor Espinoza to get the early advantage over Mega Heat, content to settle into second. Fractions were :23.78, :47.94, and 1:12.06, as Norvsky ranged into contention between horses rounding the final turn.
Lucky Primo and Mega Heat fought it out through the lane as Norvsky charged home on the outside. Holladay Road, finding room at the rail for Garrett Gomez, also seriously threatened. But Norvsky, under left-handed urging from Bejarano, got there just in time.
“I was a little worried at the stretch because I had to move early at the three-eighths pole to get him close, then I needed to make another move at the top of the stretch," Bejarano said. "My horse had enough to keep going and he showed me a big kick.”
Norvsky ran his career mark on grass to 4-5-2 in 12 starts. Overall, his fifth lifetime win in 16 starts boosted his earnings to $392,844.
Carrying co-top weight of 124 pounds, Norvsky paid $5, $3.20, $2.40, topping a $37 exacta with Lucky Primo, who also toted 124 and paid $7.60 and $5.60. Holladay Road paid $4.40 to show.
In the $125,000 John Deere Cal Cup Distaff, Unzip Me rolled through the stretch to win the hillside turf course test at 6 1/2 furlongs going away at 6-5 odds, giving Bejarano his fifth win on the program (VIDEO).
Unzip Me, a 5-year-old daughter of City Zip --Escape With Me, by Arazi, is owned by her breeders Harris Farms and Donald Valpredo in partnership with Per Antonsen. She provided trainer Marty Jones with his third win on the program.
Unzip Me stayed home for the Cal Cup this year rather than shipping to Churchill Downs for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IIT), a race in which she finished third last year.
Unzip Me ($4.40) won for the sixth time in nine starts on the hillside course she adores while completing the distance in 1:12.53 on a firm course. She has now won 13 times in 23 lifetime starts overall with earnings of $893,228.
Courtside led at every call with Rosario aboard to capture the $100,000 Donald Valpredo California Cup Sprint by 2 1/4 lengths in a mild upset. Courtside ($11.40) completed the six furlongs in a sizzling 1:07.97 (VIDEO).
Owned and bred by Lee and Susan Searling' C R K Stable and trained by John Sadler, 3-year-old Courtside is a gray/roan gelding by Cindago out of the Boston Harbor mare Wet.
Grade I winner Bob Black Jack, returning to action for the first time since winning the San Carlos Handicap (gr. II) in February 2010, held on tenaciously by a half-length for second over fellow grade I winner M One Rifle.
Cost of Freedom was scratched at the gate, taking away Bejarano's opportunity to sweep all five of the Cal Cup stakes. Mensa Heat, the 3-2 favorite in the field of seven, finished last.
The Cal Cup stakes program began with a pair of juvenile contests each worth $100,000 and both won by Bejarano.
Starlight Magic, the 3-5 favorite, stalked into the stretch and took the lead from Willa B Awesome approaching the eighth pole, inching away under urging to win the Robert H. Walter Juvenile Fillies by 1 3/4 lengths. The running time for the 1 1/16-mile test was 1:43.47 (VIDEO) .
A gray/roan daughter of Marino Marini out of the General Meeting mare Star's Millennium, Starlight Magic ($3.20) scored her second win in four starts for owner Cory Wagner and trainer Mark Glatt. Starlight Magic, a $75,000 Barretts purchase in May, boosted her career earnings to $96,780 with the win.
Willa B Awesome, ridden by Martin Pedroza, finished 10 1/2 lengths in front of the show horse, Raesunbridledfaith.
A homebred for Mr. and Mrs. Larry D. Williams, Rousing Sermon registered his second win in four starts for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. The chestnut son of Lucky Pulpit --Rousing Again, by Awesome Again , was coming off a third-place finish in the I'm Smokin Stakes at Del Mar Sept. 5 and boosted his earnings to $114,000.