Favorite Buzzards Bay, under strong urging from jockey Jose Valdivia Jr., gamely held off the late charging 25-1 shot Sun Boat to win the $250,000 Californian (gr. II) (VIDEO) by a nose on the Cushion Track Saturday at Hollywood Park.
Buzzards Bay, winner of the 2005 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) and a pair of graded stakes including the Oaklawn Park Handicap (gr. II) a year ago, established himself as a leading contender for the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) on June 30 with the victory. Nine Californian winners have gone on to win the Gold Cup, the most recent Lava Man in 2005. Buzzards Bay could be headed for a clash with Lava Man, who is expected to bid for a third consecutive victory in the 1 1/4-mile classic.
Valdivia, who has ridden Buzzards Bay to three wins in his last five starts dating to a victory in the All America Handicap (gr. III) in February of 2006 at Golden Gate Fields, gave the 5-year-old a perfect stalking trip.
Buzzards Bay, carrying 116 pounds, sat third as A.P. Xcellent and Kip Deville battled for the lead through much of the 1 1/8-mile Californian, compiling fractions of :24 1/5, :47 2/5 and 1:10 4/5. Valdivia moved three wide at the top of the stretch and Buzzards Bay wore down the leaders before fighting off a surging Sun Boat in the final yards to win in a time of 1:49 3/5, one second off the all-weather track mark established last year by Californian rival Saint Stephen in winning the Native Diver Handicap (gr. III). Saint Stephen finished sixth Saturday.
“When he made the lead, he went to looking around a little,” Valdivia said of Buzzards Bay. “I got a little worried with that horse (Sun Boat) flying on the outside of him, but once he saw him coming he was able to hold him off."
Sun Boat, claimed two starts back by Mike Mitchell for $50,000, just failed to manufacture a huge upset, finishing 1 1/2 lengths clear of A.P. Xcellent and jockey Richard Migliore in third. Second choice Boboman finished fourth, followed by Jack’s Wild, Saint Stephen, Wilko, Kip Deville, Hockey the General and Perfect Drift in the largest Californian field since 10 started in 1991. Grand Point and Porfido scratched.
Kip Deville, a grade I winner on grass at Santa Anita earlier this season, was making a quick turnaround after running sixth in the Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) May 28. He carried high weight of 120 pounds.
Buzzards Bay, owned by Gary S. Broad and trained by Ron Ellis, was making his second start of the year. He finished third in the Mervyn LeRoy (gr. II) at Hollywood May 5 following a 10-month layoff.
"He got jostled around a little bit out of the gate and I think that Kip Deville and A.P Xcellent were kind of squeezing him there," Ellis said. "I think he likes laying up closer to the lead but it didn’t matter. He ran a really nice race and since it’s his second race back we’re still trying to get him into shape. If he comes out of this race well it looks like the Gold Cup is in our plans. A mile and a quarter is a great distance for him.”
The victory was the sixth in 18 starts for Buzzards Bay. The winner’s share of $150,000 raised his earnings to $1,325,507.
Sun Boat came close to giving Mitchell and Baze a stakes double after they clicked earlier on the card with Sindy With an S in the $83,125 Manhattan Beach Stakes.
“He ran great,” Baze said. “He had a great trip, inside, saving ground the whole way. Then when we hit that final turn, I took him out and he came running. He had so much momentum, I thought I had that other horse."
The slight favorite over Boboman, Buzzards Bay paid $6.60, $4.20 and $3. Sun Boat returned $18.80 and $9, while the show payoff on A. P. Xcellent was $4.60.