Tracking early, Surf Cat slowly reeled in pacesetter Desert Code through the lane to get up in the final strides for a half-length victory. The winner, who carried high weight of 120 pounds, covered 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track in 1:41.13 and became the first two-time winner of the LeRoy.
Trained by Bruce Headley for his wife Aase and Marsha Naify, the 6-year-old son of Sir Cat also won the race in 2006. He missed more than a year after that 3 1/2-length victory with injuries.
Longshot Desert Code (23-1), who was pressed by 2005 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Buzzards Bay as he set a solid pace (:23.42, :46.01, 1:09.32), fought gamely to preserve second money by one length under jockey Aaron Gryder. Global Hunter, an 18-1 outsider ridden by Omar Berrio, finished well to edge Neko Bay by three-quarters of a length for third.
Buzzards Bay finished fifth, followed by 6-5 favorite Monzante, Zappa, and Fly Dorcego. Two horses, Giant Gizmo and Mr Napper Tandy, scratched.
"He's really coming around,” Solis said of Surf Cat. “He was real kind today. In some of his earlier races, he was a little mad and sour, but as he goes along, he's getting better and better. He's coming back to his old self."
Surf Cat won for the ninth time in 18 starts, boosting his earnings to $925,420 with the winner’s check of $90,000. The dark bay has won five grade II races in his career. Sent off as the second choice, he paid $7.20, $4.60, and $3.80.
“I thought this race set up perfect because he had a couple of nice speed horses out in front of him,” Bruce Headley said. “Alex got him to relax, and it seems like that’s his best race when he relaxes like that. The pace set up perfect because he wasn’t out with them or in between them; he was trailing them. His best races have been like this. We’ll place him in either the Californian (gr. II) or the Metropolitan Mile (gr. I). It depends on the weights.”
Desert Code ($20, $12.20) and Global Hunter ($9.20) both out-ran their odds in the LeRoy, which is the first major prep for the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) June 28.
“He ran great,” Gryder said of the runner-up. “He got pressure all the way and took on a challenge from a very good Surf Cat. It's just too bad he got beat. Turning for home, he got away from (Buzzards Bay) a little bit and I thought he might go ahead and steal away."
Monzante, meanwhile, was never a threat.
“He just got tired,” jockey Rafael Bejarano said of the Mike Mitchell trainee. “I don't think he liked the dirt hitting him in the face.”
Trainer Bobby Frankel was represented by three winners on Saturday’s card—Rosangela in the second race, Be Glorious in the sixth, and Skimmetry in the eighth.