It was sweet revenge for Heatseeker's connections, who suffered a heart-breaking nose defeat when their horse was nipped in the final bob by Tiago in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) on dirt April 5. Tiago picked up nine pounds from his Arkansas win and carried top weight of 126 in the Californian, four more than Heatseeker.
The two-time grade I winner Tiago never really had a chance to get involved this time, though, as Heatseeker left his pace rival Surf Cat behind approaching the eighth pole and drew off under left-handed urging from Rafael Bejarano.
The final time was 1:47.06.
Tiago broke a tad slowly for jockey Mike Smith and trailed the four-horse field for the first six furlongs before angling out in the stretch and rallying for second by 1 3/4 lengths over Surf Cat.
Surf Cat, under Alex Solis, set the early pace from off the fence as Heatseeker unexpectedly pushed that one from the inside right after the break. They went :24.72 for the opening quarter mile, :48.15 for the half, and 1:11.68 for three-quarters before Heatseeker turned it up a notch rounding the final bend. Heatseeker held a narrow lead entering the stretch and edged away from the tiring Surf Cat, opening up mid-stretch to win driving.
"I wanted to come from behind but nobody wanted to go to the lead," Bejarano said. "My horse broke really sharp and he got comfortable real fast. We were going really slow early and he was able to take advantage of the slow pace. I thought I had Surf Cat measured because I had a lot of gas left when we got to the turn."
Smith said Tiago had little chance because of the way the race set up. "There was no pace. Heatseeker was really on his game today, and so was my horse. My horse ran dynamite. The pace just didn't help him."
The Irish-bred Heatseeker, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer for owner William de Burgh, won the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) in March with Bejarano. The powerful chestnut has been tremendous on synthetic tracks, with four wins, three seconds, and a show in nine starts. Overall, Heatseeker improved to 7-5-2 in 17 lifetime efforts and has banked $1,180,223. He earned $150,000 for the Californian victory.
Hollendorfer said he thought Bejarano did the right thing with Heatseeker by allowing his charge to vie for the early lead with Surf Cat after breaking well from the inside.
"(He) kept his horse near the front end and it worked out well; sometimes it doesn’t but it did today," the trainer said. "The first quarter was fairly slow and then I was a little worried because they picked it up faster the second quarter. He seemed like he was doing it well and it didn’t bother him to have that horse on the outside of him."
The $750,000 Gold Cup on Hollywood's main track June 28 is the next goal for Heatseeker, Hollendorfer said.
Heatseeker paid $4 and $2.40. Third choice Tiago returned $2.80. There was no show wagering. Surf Cat finished 3 3/4 lengths in front of Albertus Maximus. Shamdinan was scratched.