Liberian Freighter dictated the pace and once again proved too tough to pass in the lane, posting a half-length win in the $98,000 Inglewood Handicap (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO), the Easter Day feature over the Hollywood Park turf April 24.
The California-bred 6-year-old son of Bertrando made it consecutive graded wins for trainer Neil Drysdale, holding off the late assault of Ryehill Dreamer and The Usual Q. T. while completing the 1 1/16-mile distance in a solid 1:39.70 over firm going. Liberian Freighter captured the Arcadia Stakes (gr. IIT) in similar front-running fashion two weeks ago at Santa Anita.
The victory completed a good weekend for the estate of the late Ed Nahem, whose King Eward Racing Stable bred and co-owns Liberian Freighter. Nahem's namesake won the Snow Chief Stakes at Hollywood a day earlier in the richest event of the California Gold Rush. Shawn Dugan, Drysdale's wife, and Charles Winner also are partners in Liberian Freighter, who is out of Anachristina, by Slewpy.
Two earlier scratches reduced the Inglewood field to just four, with Liberian Freighter the longest shot in the field at 7-2.
Liberian Freighter was, as usual, somewhat reluctant approaching the starting gate prior to the race. But he behaved himself well while in the box and came out running from his rail post for jockey Martin Garcia, soon opening a two-length over Ryehill Dreamer, with The Usual Q. T. and 7-5 favorite Jeranimo falling about six to eight lengths off the pace.
“He does the same thing all the time at the gate," Garcia said afterward. "He just wants to play around. But today he was pretty good. This horse just loves to run."
Liberian Freighter was left alone on the front end while carving sensible quarter-mile fractions of :23.97, :47.92 and 1:10.37. He maintained a clear advantage into the stretch and held sway in the final furlong while getting out a bit close to home in spite of vigorous right-handed urging from Garcia.
Drysdale said that Liberian Freighter is versatile and doesn't need the lead to win.
"I think he can do both, run on the lead and come from behind," the Hall of Fame trainer said. "It just seems that today he had a bit more speed than Ryehill Dreamer. He drew the rail and broke better and inherited the lead.
"I have absolutely no idea what’s next," he added. "I don’t know if he’ll go a mile and an eighth.’’
Irish-bred Ryehill Dreamer had a clean shot at the leader in the final sixteenth for Joel Rosario but couldn't get there in time. Ryehill Dreamer finished second by a neck over the fast-closing The Usual Q. T., a multiple grade I winner who was ridden by Victor Espinoza. Jeranimo, the third-place finisher in the one-mile Arcadia, finished last, but was beaten by only two lengths.
"Turning for home, I tried to switch the whip to my right hand and I lost the whip," Rosario said. "It might have made a difference."
The Usual Q. T. carried top weight of 122 pounds. His fitness level for the Inglewood was a concern for trainer Jim Cassidy after the classy 5-year-old gelding missed training time with a foot problem.
“He had a lot of setbacks since his last race (Jan. 29)," Cassidy said. "He had a big abscess in his foot and his works were spotty. I told Victor I thought those two (Liberian Freighter and Ryehill Dreamer) would go fast up front and I didn’t want him in the mix because I knew he’d need the race. It shows you how much class he has.”
Garcia has won four of six races when teamed with Liberian Freighter, including the Arcadia and the Oak Tree Mile (gr. IIT) at Hollywood Park last fall. The dark bay/brown gelding has been a crackerjack at the 1 1/16-mile distance, winning five of seven starts on turf, and also on the Hollywood lawn, where he is 5-0-2 in nine tries.
"He’s such a nice horse," Garcia said. "If there was more speed, I would have taken him back. I won the Oak Tree Mile with him from six lengths back. He likes this course a lot.”
Liberian Freighter earned $60,000 while boosting his overall career mark to 10-2-6 in 27 races. He has banked $733,740.
He carried 120 pounds and paid $9.40 and $4 while topping a $31.20 exacta. Ryehill Dreamer, a top-level allowance winner by an impressive 4 1/2 lengths in his most recent start for trainer Julio Canani, returned $4.60. There was no show or trifecta wagering.
Honour the Deputy and Kelly Leak were scratched.