Making his stakes debut, odds-on choice Golden Itiz caught Skipshot in the final strides to post a half-length victory in the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO) June 19 at Hollywood Park.
Tyler Baze rode the son of Tiznow to victory for trainer Ron Ellis and owners Jay Em Ess Stable.
Golden Itiz has now won three in row after beating six rivals in the 1 1/16-mile test for 3-year-olds in a Cushion Track time of 1:42.84. He was coming off an eye-catching 11 1/4-length front-running romp for Baze in an optional claiming allowance race over the same distance at Hollywood April 28.
But it was clear from the outset that this wasn't going to be that type of race. Skipshot, breaking from the rail for Joe Talamo, was hustled out of the gate and angled toward the middle of the track, forcing Golden Itiz, breaking from post 2, wide into the clubhouse turn. Baze would eventually drop Golden Itiz into fourth as Ranger Heartley, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, swept by on the outside to set the pace.
Ranger Heartley was loose on the lead by as many as three lengths over Skipshot while carving fast fractions of :23.18, :46.28, and 1:10.83. Skipshot sliced the gap on the final turn and dueled for the lead heading for home with Ranger Heartley, who gave way near mid-stretch. Meantime, Golden Itiz edged past Gallant Gent into third and set his sights on the new leader.
Skipshot, looking for his first stakes victory, fought with determination but was getting weary late and could not hold off Golden Itiz on his outside as they approached the wire.
"Well, I wasn't sure he (Golden Itiz) was going to get there," Ellis told TVG on his way to the winner's circle. "He drifted out a little on the turn rather than really cut that corner, which is how I like to see them do it.
"But he's a gutty little horse and I think he'll be one of those kind all his career that gives his all every time. Skipshot is a much experienced horse than my horse. I'm sure this race will really teach him a lot."
Ellis, who doubles as an analyst for TVG, said earlier in the day that he wanted to run Golden Itiz in the Swaps Stakes (gr. II) at Hollywood July 17, then possibly take a shot at the Travers Stakes (gr. I) Aug. 28 at Saratoga.
Baze said Golden Itiz settled down nicely on the backstretch after the rough first turn.
"He had to do some real running today," the jockey said. "He's a real nice horse and he is maturing and getting better. It was just a matter of when I wanted to pull the trigger. He tries hard. Ever since I got on him the first time I knew he was something special. I can't wait for the Swaps."
Alphie's Bet, rallying from last, charged home to get third, one length behind the winner. Summer Movie ran evenly for fourth and was followed by Ranger Heartley, Gallant Gent, Distorted Dave and Mindblower, who unseated his rider while fractious entering the gate, delaying the start of the race.
A $240,000 Keeneland September yearling buy in 2008, Golden Itiz began his career in February at Santa Anita, finishing third in a maiden special weight at 6 1/2 furlongs. He returned at the same class and distance March 20 and scored by two lengths. He broke out five weeks later with his smashing optional claiming victory in his first try around two turns. He is now two-for-two routing while doubling his career earnings to $118,080 with the winning purse of $60,000.
Out of the Dixieland Band mare Golden Tiy, the winning dark bay or brown colt was bred in Kentucky by William A. Carl.
Sent off at 9-10 odds, Golden Itiz carried 116 pounds and paid $3.80, $3 and $2.40 and topped a $13.80 exacta with the second choice.
Skipshot, who returned $4.20 and $3 under 115, won three in a row earlier this year at Golden Gate Fields for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer but has been stymied in three consecutive graded stakes efforts since.
“He had everything his own way," Talamo said of the runner-up. "I just got outrun. On the first turn I let him drift out on purpose to just make them think. That made Bejarano (on Ranger Heartley) go ahead so we ended up having a perfect trip.”
Alphie's Bet, who was off slowly and trailed the field for the opening half-mile, got rolling a bit too late while four wide leaving the turn. The 119-pound high weight, winner of the Sham Stakes (gr. III) this spring, paid $2.80 to show.