Gary Tanaka's Irish-bred Atlando swept past entry mate King's Drama in mid-stretch, then held off the late surge of T.H. Approval to win the San Luis Obispo Handicap (gr. IIT) in stakes record-tying time on the Santa Anita Park lawn Sunday.
Ridden by Martin Pedroza for trainer Darrell Vienna, Atlando swept around the field leaving the final turn and blew past King's Drama, also owned by Tanaka and trained by Bobby Frankel, to win by three-quarters of a length in a time of 2:23 4/5 on firm going. That tied the stakes mark set by Captain Cee Jay in a division of the race run in 1974. The clocking was one second off the track record set by Hawkster in 1989 as well.
Atlando, a 5-year-old Hernando gelding, had never tried 12 furlongs in 15 previous starts, mostly in France. But he looked bred for it with his impressive response when urged on by Pedroza.
"I wasn't confident," Vienna said of Atlando's first attempt going that far, "but Mr. Tanaka was."
A winner of four of his six starts last year, Atlando finished a closing fourth – 3 1/4 lengths behind The Tin Man – in the 1 1/4-mile San Marcos Handicap (gr. IIT) over the course in his last start Jan. 22. He was second to Badge of Silver in the 1 1/8-mile San Gabriel Handicap (gr. IIT) Jan. 1. In his only other start stateside, he posted his first graded or group win in Belmont Park's 1 1/8-mile Knickerbocker (gr. IIIT) Oct. 30. He now boasts a 6-2-1 mark in 16 starts and earnings of $332,765.
"There were different instructions the whole week because this horse had never been a mile-and-a-half," Pedroza said afterward. "But everything changed when I got to the paddock. Instead of riding closer than normal to the pace, I was told to just ride him my way, and I did. Every time I worked him, I had him behind horses, and he just comes. He's got a helluva kick."
T.H. Approval, ridden by Alex Solis, provided his customary solid effort even though he was making his first appearance since running a narrow second in the Sunset Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) at Hollywood Park in July. The Kentucky homebred T.H. Approval, who has just one win from 10 tries on the Santa Anita turf, was three-quarters of a length clear of King's Drama, the 122-pound high weight in the field of eight.
Winner of the the 12-furlong Sword Dancer (gr. IT) at Saratoga last summer, the Irish-bred King's Drama had been out of action since finishing 16th in the Japan Cup (Jpn-I) at Tokyo Racecourse Nov. 27.
It was 6 3/4 lengths back to the fourth-place finisher Bullistic, followed by Clipperdown, Bouthan, Modern Era, and Aubonne. Balustrade and Fantastic Spain scratched.
Tanaka also started the German-bred Aubonne, who faded from contention after pressing the pacesetter Modern Era and the close-up King's Drama for the opening mile.
Atlando saved ground in sixth early as Modern Era set a fast clip for the distance – :23 4/5, :46 3/5, 1:10 4/5 and 1:35 1/5 – before giving way with a quarter mile to go. Atlando swung out to launch his bid leaving the final turn and was under urging to keep off T.H. Approval, who was finishing strongly.
"It was a beautiful ride," Vienna said. "I thought we might be closer, but I told Martin to forget what I've been telling the press. Wherever he sits, he's got to relax to get a mile-and-a-half. Martin got him perfectly relaxed. He saved ground and then came around horses with a fresh horse."
The entry went off at odds of 2-5 with Atlando paying $2.80, $2.10, and $2.10. T.H. Approval returned $2.20 and $2.10 as the second choice, completing a $4.80 exacta.