It was the third straight win for the Kentucky-bred son of Najran, a 12-1 shot who tallied by 1 1/2 lengths over Tangled Tango while completing the 1 1/16-mile distance in a handy 1:40.92 over the firm lawn. Liberian Freighter finished third, 2 3/4 lengths behind Sky Cape.
"He's learned how to relax a lot," said trainer Kristin Mulhall, who also bred the winning chestnut colt and is part owner with Visionary Racing and longtime client Steve Taub. "He used to be really uptight. But the more he runs, the more he relaxes. He's become a real race horse."
The La Jolla was the 14th lifetime start for Sky Cape, by far the most races of the 10 horses in the field. He registered his fifth win while improving to four wins and a second in six tries this year. Sky Cape was to have run in the Oceanside Stakes on opening day at Del Mar, but was ill.
"I would have been happy with third in here," Mulhall said. "He's been training really great, but he got sick on Oceanside Stakes day and he lost about a week of training, so I wasn't sure how sharp he'd be. We thought we were going to have a big day in the Oceanside, but after he got sick, we had to point for this race."
In a Southern California 3-year-old turf division that has lacked a standout, Sky Cape figures to be a strong contender for the $400,000 Del Mar Derby (gr. II) at nine furlongs Aug. 31.
Under Joel Rosario, Sky Cape settled nicely into a stalking position second as Liberian Freighter, hustled from the far outside gate by David Flores, took command heading into the clubhouse turn. As Liberian Freighter opened up by four or five lengths down the backside, Sky Cape waited patiently, gradually cutting into the advantage on the far turn while joined by Tangled Tango and Tyler Baze. In the lane, Liberian Freighter weakened, leaving Sky Cape and Tangled Tango to fight it out. Sky Cape, though, was the stronger of the two on this day and drew off to win easily.
"I could tell the pace was on the slow side, so I moved up with him," said Rosario, a 23-year-old native of the Dominican Republic after landing his first stakes score at Del Mar. "Then when I asked him, he really went. Oh, he's a nice horse. I really like riding horses like him."
The first three finishers were helped considerably by avoiding a rough run leaving the chute going into the first turn. Favored Tiz West, racing mid-pack, proved to be a handful for Victor Espinoza when caught in a tangle, swerved to the outside awkwardly and took out a couple of other runners, including second choice Moral Compass. Neither recovered to be a factor, with Tiz West finishing last.
Fractions were :24.01 for the opening quarter mile, :48.14 for the half, and 1:11.75 for six furlongs.
Sky Cape came into the race with back-to-back stakes victories, the most recent coming May 24 in the 1 1/16-mile Alcatraz on the Golden Gate Fields lawn. Sky Cape has been worse than second just once in eight races on the grass, winning four. Out of the Marquetry mare Skyscape, he boosted his career earnings $320,230 with the $90,000 winner's share.
Sky Cape, who carried 117 pounds to victory, paid $27.60, $11.60, and $7.40. Tangled Tango returned $6.60 and $4.20, and Liberian Freighter was $7.80 to show. The $2 exacta was worth $186.60. The second and third-place horses finished in a dead heat for third in a division of the Oceanside July 16.
Madeo finished fourth, followed by Nownownow, Moral Compass, Jungle Wave, Coronel Moldes, Zetterberg, and Tiz West.
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