Jockey Patrick Valenzuela drove Burns through an opening at the rail past mid-stretch to capture the $150,000 La Jolla Handicap (gr. IIT), giving trainer Barry Abrams a special moment at Del Mar Aug. 13 (VIDEO).
Abrams has been out of action while recuperating from surgery for recurring throat cancer, and Burns' victory was the first for his barn at the Del Mar meeting. Abrams' longtime client Madeline Auerbach owns the winning California-bred son of Unusual Heat in partnership with Alfred Pais.
Auerbach, Sonny Pais, and David Abrams, the brother of the trainer, bred Burns. The bay gelding is out of the Afternoon Deelites mare Little Hottie.
The fast-improving Burns, coming off a runner-up effort in the opening-day Oceanside Stakes, picked up his first stakes win, holding off the wide closer Lil Bit O'Fun by a neck in a moderate time of 1:42.36 for 1 1/16 miles on a firm turf. Pacesetter Thirtyfirststreet got the show spot, a half-length farther back, while even-money favorite Midnight Interlude was blocked in the stretch and had to settle for fourth in a field of six 3-year-olds.
Oceanside winner Mr. Commons, who would have been favored in the La Jolla, was forced to miss the race with a foot bruise. Trainer John Shirreffs said he hoped to have Mr. Commons ready for the Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) Sept. 4, where he will likely face Burns once more.
Though he's been ill, Barry Abrams has maintained his competitive nature.
"We're looking forward to the Del Mar Derby," he said in a message delivered by TVG after the La Jolla. "We're ready for Mr. Commons."
Burns stalked along the inside in fourth as Thirtyfirststreet, ridden by Alonzo Quinonez, went to the lead over Surrey Star and led that one through pedestrian fractions of :24.57, :49.25, and 1:13.32. Burns continued to lead into the stretch while coming off the rail a bit under left-handed encouragement from Quinonez.
That created an opening for Burns, who responded when asked by Valenzuela to challenge for the lead at the pine. Burns came away with the advantage in deep stretch as Lil Bit O'Fun, ridden by David Flores, closed in on the far outside. Rafael Bejarano, looking desperately for room between horses aboard Midnight Interlude, had no where to go and was forced to follow Burns through on the inside. Burns dug in late, fighting to the wire and held off Lil Bit O'Fun in a game finish.
Thirtyfirststreet edged Midnight Interlude by a half-length for third.
`No room, no luck,'' said Bejarano. ``I had lots of horse. If I get out, I win. But I got pushed down inside. I couldn't let him run.''
Valenzuela first rode Burns in an optional claiming allowance race on the Hollywood Park turf June 25, nosing the well-regarded Cloud Man at the La Jolla distance. They teamed once more for the runner-up effort in the one-mile Oceanside July 20.
"He ran a great race last time, but I lost a little bit of ground on the turn and he ended up second (beaten by 1 1/2 lengths)," Valenzuela said.
He took a different approach this time.
"I was down there inside saving and waiting," Valenzuela added. "(Thirtyfirststreet) was trying to get out on both turns and I knew the rail was going to open up. I just had to be patient and hope it happened at the right time. At the eighth pole I made it through and he fired. He ran huge. And he’ll run farther. I have no doubt about that.”
Burns improved his career record to 4-1-2 in 12 starts with earnings of $245,838, paying $9.20, $4.40, $2.80 as the second choice. He carried 120 pounds, two less than the top-weighted Midnight Interlude.
Lil Bit O'Fun, a stakes winner at Indiana Downs for trainer Tom Proctor June 15, rebounded well from a 10th-place effort in the American Derby (gr. IIT) at Arlington Park one month ago. He returned $8.80 and $3.80 and rounded out a $68.80 exacta while finishing willingly when angled wide for the drive by Flores.
Lone Star Derby winner Thirtyfirststreet, returning to Southern California after a dismal effort in the Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) last time out at Colonial Downs, paid $3.80 to show in a gem try for trainer Doug O'Neill.
The unlucky Midnight Interlude was followed by Surrey Star and Fort Hastings. Temple's Door scratched.