Dakota Phone, last heading into the final turn, took the overland route to a neck victory in the $200,000 San Diego Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar July 31 (VIDEO), snapping a 16-race losing streak.
Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, who owns the 5-year-old Zavata gelding in partnership with George Todaro, John Carver, and Halo Farms, Dakota Phone won for the first time since taking the Forty Niner Stakes at Golden Gate Fields Nov. 28, 2008. He overcame the far outside post to register his first graded win.
In taking the 1 1/16-mile San Diego, a major Polytrack prep for the $1 million Pacific Classic presented by TVG (gr. I) Aug. 28, Dakota Phone earned a berth in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. II) at Churchill Downs Nov. 6.
Circling the field six wide coming off the final turn for Joel Rosario, Dakota Phone confronted 3-1 favorite Battle of Hastings in deep stretch and won a tough duel to the wire in a final time of 1:43.55. Pacesetter Enriched, making a seven-day turnaround from last weekend's Eddie Read Stakes (gr. IT) for trainer Doug O'Neill, weakened late to finish third, 2 1/4 lengths behind the runner-up.
While seldom winning in a 5-for-29 in career, Dakota Phone certainly pays his way with earnings of $583,810. He has seven seconds and seven thirds. He also has won both of his lifetime starts at Del Mar, taking a first-level allowance race in August 2008.
"He picked a good time to win," Hollendorfer said. "We've had this horse a long time and made money but he's done it the hard way. With this win, maybe we can look at the big race (Pacific Classic). This is the prep for that race, but it's a lot tougher.
"This horse picked up his training here and he gave us confidence that he'd run a good race. We were worried about the outside post. We felt like we needed to beat the inside speed to the first turn but it didn't go according to plan. The pace was a little brisker than he's been getting, so that was a big help."
In seven starts this year, Dakota Phone was second twice, including a head defeat in the San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) in February, and was third three other times, including the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 6. He was coming off a runner-up finish to Eddie Read winner The Usual Q. T. in a one-mile turf allowance at Hollywood Park June 27.
Morning line favorite Richard's Kid was scratched from the San Diego after he ran third the previous evening in the Cougar II Handicap (gr. III), reducing the field to nine. Dakota Phone was unhurried while racing off the rail. He trailed the leaders by more than 11 lengths after the first six furlongs before moving up a bit on the far outside on the final turn.
Enriched, ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, pulled early and set the pace while pressed by Tres Borrachos through fractions of :23.36, :47.14 and 1:11.77. He kicked clear to lead by two lengths mid-stretch but weakened as Battle of Hastings, a multiple grade II winner on turf making his first synthetic track start, rallied powerfully with jockey Joe Talamo to get the lead from between horses. He was on the inside of Dakota Phone as the two hooked late, with Dakota prevailing under left-handed urging from Rosario in the final strides.
"It set up just the way I hoped," Rosario said of his trip. "The pace was fast enough and I knew he'd be closing."
"I got a jump on the winner and I was moving," Talamo said of the runner-up. "But he just ran by me. No complaints. My horse ran good."
Isle of Giants finished a half-length behind Enriched in fourth, followed by Mythical Power, Deal Breaker, second choice Sangaree, Tres Borrachos and Red Eye Express.
Bred in Kentucky by Cashmark Farms and Dakota Stables, Dakota Phone is out of the Spinning World mare World of Gold.
The winner carried 117 pounds, one less than Battle of Hastings, and paid $11.40, $5.20 and $3.60 as the third choice in the even field. Battle of Hastings, trying the Polytrack after 19 starts on turf for trainer Jeff Mullins, turned in a strong effort to return $4.80 and $4.20. The exacta was worth $49. Enriched, who was also third in the Eddie Read, was $4.60 to show.