Lethal Heat gained the lead in the final sixteenth of a mile and scored a head victory over Smooth Performer in a three-horse blanket finish to the $157,600 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks (gr. II) (VIDEO) on the Hollywood Park Cushion Track June 8.
It was the fourth win in five starts for Lethal Heat, a California-bred daughter of Unusual Heat trained by Barry Abrams. This was her first effort beyond seven furlongs.
Smooth Performer, who is out of the 1999 Hollywood Oaks winner Smooth Player, closed well to finish second and complete an all California-bred exacta that paid $93 for a $2 exacta.
Tasha's Miracle was leading in the stretch but was overcome by the first two before rallying again from the inside to get close. Favored Million Dollar Run finished fourth in a field reduced to six by three scratches.
Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, Lethal Heat was alway close while rating in third place behind a moderate pace established by the outsider Gambler's Justice, who was tracked closely by Tasha's Miracle. The fractions were :24.20 for the opening quarter mile, :48.09 for the half and 1:11.76 for six furlongs.
Tasha's Miracle, ridden by Martin Garcia, edged her way to the lead at the top of the stretch but could not shake Lethal Heat, who closed in from the outside of the leader nearing the eighth pole. Smooth Performer closed steadily on the far outside to get up for second in the final strides. The final time was 1:43.
"I tried to stay comfortable on the outside behind the speed, but she was dragging me for five furlongs," Bejarano said. "But I had a lot of horse. She was still running strong at the end."
Abrams partly owns Lethal Heat along with Madeline Auerbach and Ron McCauley. The bay filly began her career with back-to-back wins on the hillside turf course at about 6 1/2 furlongs, then came from off the pace to tally in the Santa Paula Stakes (gr. III) on the Santa Anita synthetic track March 30 by nearly two lengths. Sent off as the 13-10 choice in the Railbird at Hollywood in her last start May 11, Lethal Heat stumbled at the break and finished third.
"Rafael was just holding on and she dragged him around to the finish line," Abrams said. "This is a learning experience for her and she's only going to get better from here once she learns how to relax and she can be any kind of horse. This one is Breeders' Cup eligible; she's the only one we nominated."
The victory, worth $94,560, increased Lethal Heat's earnings to $254,028.
Lethal Heat was bred by David Abrams, Auerbach and Tom Roberts out of the Synastry mare Lethal Leta.
Sent off as the second choice, Lethal Heat paid $6.60, $4.20 and $3.60. Smooth Performer, the longest shot on the board at 18-1, returned $10.60 and $5.80 in her stakes debut for trainer Clifford Sise. Tasha's Mirace, trained by John Sadler, was $3.80 to show.
It was two lengths back to Million Dollar Run, who won the seven-furlong Railbird (gr. III) last time. She was followed by Gambler's Justice and Divine Legacy.(Chart, Equibase)