Ridden by Omar Berrio for trainer A.C. Avila, the 5-year-old River Savage earned her first graded stakes win in the 1 1/16-mile Hawthorne after three successive defeats when overmatched in grade I races. That included the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park, in which she was nearly 12 lengths behind the winning Ermine one month ago.
Berrio and Avila have teamed for many upsets on the Southern California circuit in recent years, but this is the first time they have won a stakes race at Hollywood Park.
Berrio, a 38-year-old native of Panama City, Panama, has been around for exactly half the runnings of the Hawthorne, but usually in the role of a spectator in the jockeys’ room as stakes mounts have been rare.
“It’s nice, I feel good, like a million dollars,” Berrio said. “She’s a good filly. I was a little scared about the Cushion Track, but today she ran beautiful. I think this was my first stakes win here ... in 17 years."
In a short field of six, Berrio placed the 9-1 shot River Savage in a perfect stalking position on the outside of the pacesetting Pyramid Love, invading from Keeneland for trainer Patrick Biancone. River Savage was forced three wide rounding the far turn when Seafree rallied between horses to challenge Pyramid Love. But coming out of the turn Seafree tired and River Savage picked up the challenge for the lead, getting the advantage in upper stretch as Cantabria, the Juddmonte Farms home-bred, launched her bid on the outside. However, Cantabria could make little impact through the lane as River Savage maintained her lead to the wire under steady urging. The winning time was 1:44.
“She surprised me a lot,” Avila said. “She galloped strong and passed a blood test since her last race, but the last eighth in her last work was very slow. She’s a nice filly, but the Apple Blossom was run on a funny track, and when you play hardball, you are challenged every time (in reference to her last three starts in grade I company). I think I am going to give her a short break now and regroup.”
The Bobby Frankel-trained Cantabria, who won her previous start on the Hollywood Cushion Track by more than four lengths, held second for Richard Migliore after vainly chasing the winner. She finished one length in front of the late-running Ballado's Thunder and Alex Solis. Pyramid Love set even fractions of :23 2/5, :46 3/5 and 1:11 1/5 before fading to fourth under Julien Leparoux.
Solis was a late replacement for Corey Nakatani aboard Ballado’s Thunder. Nakatani took off his mounts due to a hand injury sustained at Churchill Downs on Saturday when Tessa Blue acted up prior to the seventh race. He had a sore hand and was scheduled to undergo and MRI on Monday.
River Savage, making her first start on the all-weather track at Hollywood, last found the winner's circle in January when she took the 1 1/16-mile Paseana Handicap by more than four lengths on the Santa Anita main track. Avila jumped the daughter of First American into grade I company in the Santa Maria Handicap, where she finished sixth, beaten 8 1/2 lengths by Sugar Shake. She gained a grade I placing when third behind Balance in the Santa Margarita Handicap prior to the Apple Blossom. The victory Sunday, her sixth in 17 lifetime starts, was worth $64,380 to owners Shawn Turner’s L-Bo Racing and Monte Pyle, and increased her earnings to $269,209.
The second-longest shot in the field, River Savage paid $21.20, $7.20 and $4. The English-bred Cantabria returned $3.60 and $2.60, completing a $60.80 exacta. Ballado's Thunder was $3.20 to show. Pyramid Love, Seafree and Maxxi Arte followed.