Traffic was tight in the stretch run of the $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IT) but Gary Tanaka's Brazilian-bred Pellegrino found plenty of room along the inside with Gary Stevens aboard to spring a 10-1 surprise Saturday.
Trained by Donald Burke, the 5-year-old Pelligrino nipped Megahertz by a head with another Brazilian-bred, License To Run another head back in the 1 1/2-mile Turf Cup. Unlucky Moscow Burning finished a close fourth, a half-length behind. Pellegrino won his first stakes in North America while earning his third victory in nine U.S. starts this year."I didn't know if he was going to be able to get there," said a relieved Burke. "I try to watch these races impartially, because if I get too emotional it takes too long to get over them. But he's a neat little horse, he really runs hard. "I thought Bobby's horse, the Brazilian horse, was going to win coming down the stretch. But then when I saw my horse get even, I knew this horse is pretty tough when he gets close. He likes to run." Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) hero Better Talk Now, the even-money favorite in the field of nine, failed his connections in their shot at Eclipse Award glory. Never comfortable in the 1 1/2-mile event with jockey Ramon Dominguez, Better Talk Now was rank early behind a ponderous pace. He pulled his way to the front on the far turn while wide and stopped in the stretch, finishing sixth."We were going way too slow," Dominguez complained. "I had a very hard time keeping him covered up. I mean, to the point where he was throwing his head up and almost running up on heels. So I had to get him out. I tried to keep him settled. But once you get him out, he's very antsy and very determined to go. So he kind of blew his race right there.""We knew we were taking a gamble doing this," trainer Graham Motion said of bringing Better Talk Now to California. "We felt like we probably had to win it to get (the Eclipse). I would imagine he's still going to be one of the finalists, but it's going to be a tougher case for him now, no doubt about it." Moscow Burning, one of two mares in the field ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., was squeezed slightly at the eighth pole. The other mare, Megahertz was rallying on the outside for Rene Douglas as the pair closed on the tiring favorite. Stewards examined the stretch run but made no change in the order of finish.Pellegrino had to take up briefly, but slipped through along the rail from sixth to get up just in time over License To Run, who was making his first start in the United States after winning four of eight in his home country. License To Run, like Megahertz from Bobby Frankel's stable, experienced trouble on the far turn as well. He shuffled back to eighth before coming with a huge rally in the middle of the course for Garrett Gomez, bumping with Moscow Burning late.Stevens said he knew Pellegrino was ready to go after stinging his feet on the Santa Anita sod while still running a close second in the Carleton F. Burke Handicap (gr. IIIT) in his last start Oct. 23."When I warmed him up today, he was just a dream," Stevens said. "I got stopped a couple of times during the race. I just had to bide my time, but it opened up beautifully in the lane, and he got the job done."Douglas, aboard Megahertz, said he was bothered by another horse drifting out near the quarter-pole."I was very disappointed to get beat like that," he said. "I couldn't afford to lose that kind of ground. I was really disappointed because she was having a great trip, and she even fought back after that. But what are you going to do?"Gomez said License To Run ran like he was lost, twice losing his position."But when I got him to the outside, this colt finally reached out and figured what it was all about, and he came running," he said. "I think Bobby has himself another nice one here."The final time for the 12 furlongs on a firm course was 1:49 2/5.Irish-bred Balestrini, breaking from the rail, set the early pace of :25 3/5, :50 2/5 and 1:15 3/5, coming under unexpected pressure from Puerto Banus and Better Talk Now as Moscow Burning settled in fourth position on the inside. Pellegrino, a dark bay horse by Nugget Point-Vale Mas (Good Bloke) improved his career mark to 4-4-3 in 15 starts and doubled his earnings to $375,676.He paid $22.40, $10 and $6.20, combining with Megahertz ($7.20, $6) for a $149.40 exacta. License To Run's show was $9.80.Balestrini finished fifth, two lengths behind Moscow Burning, followed by Better Talk Now, Hatif, Habanerous and Puerto Banus.