Sweet August Moon outfought even-money choice Alpha Kitten to win the $147,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO)at Del Mar Aug. 22 and earn a spot in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) this fall.
It was the second graded-stakes win in a row for the determined Sweet August Moon, who captured the seven-furlong A Gleam Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood Park July 17 for trainer Brian Koriner. Sweet August Moon, ridden by Victor Espinoza, edged Alpha Kitten by three-quarters of a length in a Polytrack time of 1:16.40 for 6 1/2 furlongs.
"I just hope she keeps it up," Koriner said. "We're trying to get to the Breeders' Cup and it's tough to keep a filly in form for four straight races. I think we'll go to a race at Colonial Downs (Virginia) for her next start. That way we'll already be in the east and won't have to ship again. We can go to Churchill Downs from there.
"I don't think she has trained real great here, but it worked out."
The scratch of likely favorite Free Flying Soul reduced the Rancho Bernardo to just four older fillies and mares. Alpha Kitten, rounding into form for trainer John Sadler, and 8-5 second choice Sweet August Moon, dominated the wagering.
Alpha Kitten, rushing up at the rail for Joel Rosario, took the lead from Taste's Sis shortly after the start and set a pedestrian pace (:23.08, :46.18) with Sweet August Moon, ridden by Victor Espinoza, tugging along closely in third on the outside. Silver Swallow dropped a couple of lengths off the leaders.
Espinoza went to scrubbing on Sweet August Moon as Alpha Kitten began to inch away under an icy Rosario rounding the bend. Sweet August Moon responded well to the encouragement, gradually pulling alongside in the lane. Sweet August Moon put a head in front at the eighth-pole and proved best to the wire while under good handling.
"She was there for me all the way around. She's handy," said Espinoza after collecting his meet-leading fifth stakes win and third victory in the Rancho Bernardo. "I could do anything I wanted with her. She ran hard at the finish, but she was going to win."
Alpha Kitten held second by a half-length over the late-running Silver Swallow, who didn't get much pace to run at while finishing with interest in the middle of the track for Alonso Quinonez. Taste's Sis faded to last.
"She tried hard," Rosario said of the favorite. "I took the lead with her because they were going too slow. I didn't plan on being there, but that's how it came up. She gave it a good try."
Legacy Ranch and Team MacPherson own Sweet August Moon, a 5-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon --Silent Academy, by Royal Academy bred in Pennsylvania by Maple Leaf Farm.
Sweet August Moon won for the seventh time in 17 lifetime races and extended her earnings to $426,396 with the winning purse of $90,000. The Rancho Bernardo was selected by the Breeders' Cup as one of its "Win and You're In" challenge races for the filly and mare sprint division. The race is Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs.
Carrying 119 pounds, two more than Alpha Kitten, Sweet August Moon paid $5.20 and $3.80 and topped an $8.60 exacta. Alpha Kitten returned $2.60. There was no show wagering.