California Flag wins the Morvich Stakes.

California Flag wins the Morvich Stakes.

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California Flag Fast and Furious in Morvich

The Avenue of Flags gelding is the first three-time winner of the race.

California Flag became the first horse to win the Morvich Stakes (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) three times when he took the latest edition of the Santa Anita race by a half-length over Excessive Passion in a furious finish Oct. 10. It was only another half-length back to Ain’t No Other, who was third under the wire while holding off Leroy’s Dynameaux by a neck at the Southern California oval.

Excessive Passion was vanned off the track afterward. Odds-on favorite Camp Victory was fifth in the field of eight runners for the $100,000 event.

Sent off at 6-1 odds, California Flag stalked Excessive Passion, who set a brisk early pace of :21.41 and :43.42. With only an eighth of a mile remaining, the rallying California Flag had the advantage and he battled gamely in the stretch.

“He ran a great race,” said California Flag’s jockey, Patrick Valenzuela. “He relaxed, sat behind the leader, and moved up around the turn. I had horse coming across the dirt and he just kicked on and fought it out hard. He’s a fighter.”

A 7-year-old Hi Card Ranch homebred, California Flag covered 6 ½ furlongs over a firm hillside course in 1:11.91. The gelded gray son of Avenue of Flags won the Morvich by a length in 2009 and scored by three lengths in the race in 2008 while setting a course record of 1:11.10. He didn’t compete in the 2010 Morvich.

“He’s a nice old horse,” said California Flag’s trainer, Brian Koriner. “It’s just nice to see him back and people can quit criticizing (about running him). He (Valenzuela) rode him perfect. He sat right outside that outside horse (Excessive Passion). He (Valenzuela) got him to relax and then he spurted away. He grinds it out. At the end, nobody was making any impact. They were just going even to the wire.”

California Flag, who was bred in California, came into the Morvich off a fifth-place finish in the Pirate’s Bounty Stakes on Del Mar’s synthetic Polytrack surface Sept. 7, when he was beaten only 2 ¼ lengths. He hadn’t won a race since finishing a nose ahead of the dead-heating duo of Quick Enough and My Summer Slew in the Green Flash Handicap on Del Mar’s grass in August 2010.

Out of the Afleet mare Ultrafleet, California Flag has won 10 of his 24 career races and has earned $1,228,825. In 2008, his efforts included a victory in the Holywood Turf Express Handicap (gr. IIIT) and the following year, he captured the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint during the Oak Tree Meeting at Santa Anita.

When asked if California Flag would run in this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs in November, Koriner replied: “I don’t know. We’ll talk about it. We didn’t know what to expect. We’ll see what happens.”

California Flag paid $15.40, $9.80, and $6 to his Morvich backers. Excessive Passion returned $14.40 and $9.20 while Ain’t No Other paid $4.60.

Earlier on Santa Anita’s Columbus Day program, Secret Circle rolled to a 5 ½-length victory in the $71,340 Jack Goodman Stakes. Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, he completed six furlongs in 1:08.27. The 2-year-old son of Eddington  will be pointed for the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint at Churchill Downs “if all’s well,” said his Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert.