Favored Pohave, ridden for the first time by Victor Espinoza, rolled to a three-quarters of a length victory in the $300,000 Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IT) Saturday at Hollywood Park for his first grade I triumph.
A gray 6-year-old Holy Bull
gelding, Pohave, the 2-1 choice in a field of 13, circled the leaders coming out of the turn. He surged to the lead in the final furlong but was all out to hold off 50-1 Rojo Toro, who refused to give in after being passed by the winner. The final time for the seven-furlong Triple Bend was 1:21.
Espinoza said he was originally to ride Rojo Toro in the race, but his agent switched him when the opportunity to ride Pohave came up.
"This horse is the kind that will do just enough to win the race," Espinoza said of the winner. "He's a lazy horse. You have to ride him all the way around. It feels like he is running slow, but it is just a little bit faster than the rest of them. And it was fast enough to win a grade I."
Revello, who battled the first two through the stretch, was third with Javier Santiago aboard, a half-length behind Rojo Toro and Joe Steiner. Kela, the second choice of the public at 7-2, finished fourth.
Smile n Wildcat, prompted by Rojo Toro racing four wide, established a quick pace (:21 4/5, :44), which aided Pohave, who rallied from the pack from between horses while slightly off the rail. Pohave picked up his pace coming out of the turn, where he was fourth behind the leaders. He swung around the leaders and got to the lead near the eighth pole, but Espinoza still had plenty of work to do to get the favorite home first.
Rojo Toro, who had the lead as they headed into the stretch, continued to battle all the way to the wire. Revello also led briefly before ovetaken by Pohave.
"I thought for an instant I might win this because when the other one came at me at the head of the lane, my horse let out a little bit and tried to run with him," Steiner said. "He dug in again. He ran a good race."
Hasty Kris finished fifth, followed by Taste of Paradise, Iron Halo, Reba's Gold, Nose The Trade, R Baggio, Debonair Joe, Ministers Wild Cat and Smile n Wildcat.
Pohave has exceeded all expectations since moved to the care of trainer Doug O'Neill for owners Kagele Bros, Inc., Ty Leatherman and Mark A. Leib last fall. He has a 4-2-2 record in nine starts, including a win in the Los Angeles Times Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park May 8. He was coming off a third-place finish behind Speightstown and Cat Genius in the True North Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park June 5. Overall, Pohave has a record of 5-7-4 in 25 starts with earnings of $476,240.
"I went from 'Wow, it looks like we're really going to do this and do it impressively' to mid-stretch 'c'mon, hold on, hold on' with Rojo Toro coming on the inside," O'Neill exclaimed. "I think all of us were a little concerned with the distance, and about mid-stretch that looked like that might actually be a legitimate concern. But Victor saved enough ... he did a real good job around the turn. I think he could have made the lead earlier, and he made sure he saved ground and saved horse. And it paid off."
Pohave paid $6.60, $3.80 and $3.20. Rojo Toro returned $32.80 and $12.60, completing a $352.60 exacta. Revello was $4.60 to show.