Spring Style's wait for her first stakes victory ended in her 6-year-old debut Jan. 1 when she held off the overwhelming favorite Harmonious by a nose to win the $147,000 Robert J. Frankel Stakes (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) on the turf at Santa Anita.
The 1 1/8-mile Frankel, formerly the San Gorgonio Handicap and now named for the great trainer, was reduced to a field of four with the scratch of Eclair de Lune. And with absolutely no pace on, the race essentially came down to a quarter-mile sprint for the wire.
Ridden expertly by Garrett Gomez, Spring Style took the lead into the stretch from Powerofvoodoo and enjoyed first run on 3-10 choice Harmonious, who charged from last on the outside, and Go Forth North, rallying along the inside. Spring Style, between horses, inched away briefly and was under strong left-handed urging late as Harmonious gradually closed in. Spring Style reached the wire just in time in a slow 1:51.08 clocking over firm going.
Spring Style carried 118 pounds, five fewer than the top-weighted Harmonious.
Ben Cecil trains the Irish-bred Spring Style, a daughter of Pivotal out of the Irish River mare Clear Spring and owned by his wife Kristina and Zillah Reddam. Since given a freshening following a seventh-place finish in the John C. Mabee Stakes (gr. IIT) at Del Mar in mid-August, Spring Style is two-for-two. She won a one-mile turf allowance at Hollywood Park Nov. 19.
“She can get a little lazy if she’s up front on her own, so I told Garrett, ‘Just sit right off somebody if you can,’ and he rode her perfect.
"It’s huge," Cecil said of the victory. "It makes her worth quite a bit of money now. She’s got a reasonable pedigree and Pivotal is the leading sire in Europe. And winning the race named for Frankel is significant. Since I came to California, he’s the trainer I’ve had certainly the most respect for, so it’s great to win.”
Gomez, who finished fourth in the national jockey standings by earnings in 2010, celebrated his 39th birthday in style.
"We went so slow, it’s hard to really come by a horse that’s trying to finish," Gomez said. "Even though she’s (Harmonious) a good finisher, when you come home quick like we did, it’s hard to pass horses. The last three-eighth’s of a mile we picked it up and came home really solid."
Harmonious, winner of the American Oaks (gr. I) and Queen Elizabeth II Cup (gr. IT) in 2010, had to settle for second with Joel Rosario aboard. It was 1 1/4 lengths back to third-place finisher Go Forth North, ridden by David Flores. Powerofvoodoo, who carved fractions of :25.48, :51.31, and 1:16.05 with Spring Style prompting from the outside, was last.
“They went too slow," Rosario said. "They told me to make the last run. I wish I could have been a little closer, but there was no pace.”
Humberto Ascanio, Frankel's longtime West Coast assistant, made the trophy presentation for the race. Frankel, Santa Anita's all-time winning trainer with 917 victories and second all-time in stakes victories at the track behind Charlie Whittingham, won the San Gorgonio a record eight times.
“It couldn’t be better than to have this race named for Bobby," Ascanio said.
Bred in Ireland by Frank Dunne, Spring Style picked up her fifth lifetime win in 16 starts and extended her earnings to $245,477 with the winner's share of $90,000.
Sent off as the third choice, Spring Style paid $15.80 and $3.60 and topped a $21.40 exacta. Harmonious ($2.10) was making her first appearance since a troubled unplaced effort in the Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs. There was no show wagering.