Spellbinder Dazzles in Berkeley Handicap

Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss' heavily favored Spellbinder dug in for the final strides to hold off the surging Sharp Writer and win the $150,000 Berkeley Handicap (gr. III) in gate-to-wire fashion at Golden Gate Fields Monday.

With Roberto Gonzalez aboard for the first time, Spellbinder, a 5-year-old Tale of the Cat  horse trained by Richard Mandella, won for the first time since taking the San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita in February. Spellbinder carried high weight of 118 pounds.

Spellbinder set solid fractions in the 1 1/16-mile main track event – :22 4/5, :46 and 1:10 1/5. Spellbinder opened up a two-length lead mid-stretch, but it appeared the late charging Staff Writer, ridden by Russell Baze, had firm aim closing in the middle of the track. But Spellbinder responded under firm urging and held on gamely for a neck victory in a time of 1:43.

"I spoke with Richard Mandella this morning and he said to try to break good and get him running leaving the gate," said Gonzalez.  "Down the lane, Sharp Writer got a neck ahead of me.  I switched sticks and hit him right-handed and he gave me another gear."

"I thought I had it but my horse had run pretty hard to get up to them," said Baze.  "My horse didn't quit me - the other horse had a little bit left.  I kept waiting for the leader to falter but he dug in when he saw us out there.  I can't fault my horse.  He gave me all he had."

Cooperation finished third and Distorted, who pressed the pace all the way, faded to fourth.

Texcess, the 2-1 second choice in the field of six, trailed through the first half-mile after he stumbled badly at the break and was bumped. The 4-year-old gelding has not won since 2004.

Spellbinder, coming off a close fourth-place finish in a one-mile grass stakes at Del Mar July 29, won his sixth race in 23 starts and pushed his earnings to $466,057 with the winner's purse of $82,500. Monday's win was the Kentucky bred's first start at Golden Gate Fields.

He paid $4.40, $3.40, and $2.40. Sharp Writer returned $4.40 and $2.60. Cooperation, Luis Martinez aboard, was $3.80 to show.

Keep On Punching and Gotaghostofachance were scratched.

(Chart, Equibase)