Summer Wind Dancer, knocking on the door for trainer Jeff Mullins, picked up her first win since November 2, 2002, catching even-money favorite Pesci in mid-stretch and blowing away from her six rivals for an easy victory in the $108,600 Hawthorne Handicap (gr. III) Sunday at Hollywood Park.
Victor Espinoza sneaked the 4-year-old gray filly up the rail on the far turn after Pesci and jockey Mike Smith were allowed to get loose on a lonely lead, clipping off fractions of :23 2/5, :46 1/5 and 1:10. Coming hard on the turn while angling out a bit, Summer Wind Dancer, carrying top weight of 116 pounds, seized the lead past the head of the stretch and assumed control while kept to the task by Espinoza on her way to a one-length win.
Espinoza swept the three graded stakes at Hollywood Park over the weekend. He won both the Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) and the Desert Stormer (gr. III) on Saturday.
"Lately, we've been lucky," Espinoza said. "You've got to be on the right horse, you know. It looked like Pesci was the horse to beat, so I wanted to be close enough coming out of the gate. With about a half-mile to go, it looked like the leader was getting tired. I saved some ground on the turn, got to the outside, and it was all over."
The final time was 1:41 2/5 for the 1 1/8-mile test for fillies and mares.
Pesci, who re-rallied along the inside in spite of her weariness, finished 10 lengths ahead of Argentina-bred Miss Loren, a first-time starter in the United States ridden by Kent Desormeaux, was a distant third in the field of seven.
Miss Loren edged Sparkling Ava by a nose. Honeypenny, Lady Thatcher and Makeup Artist trailed.
Bred in Calfornia by her owners Richard Wira, Yvette Wira and Linda Vetter, Summer Wind Dancer had lost both of her races – restricted stakes – each by a head since coming under Mullins' care in April. She had dropped 10 in a row, her last triumph coming in the California Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita. The victory was the fourth for the daughter of Siberian Summer, to go with five seconds and three thirds, in 15 lifetime starts. Her earnings are at $415,762.
Pesci, whose part-owner is Academy award-winning actor Joe Pesci, was coming off an 8 1/2-length score in an optional allowance event over three rivals at Hollywood Park April 30. The 4-year-old Florida bred was making her grades stakes debut.
Summer Wind Dancer paid $6.40, $2.80 $2.20 as the second choice. Pesci returned $2.60 and $2.20. Miss Loren was $3.20 to show. The exacta was $10.60.
Souvenir Gift, meanwhile, remained undefeated with a 4 1/2-length victory under Smith in Sunday's co-feature, the $85,350 Cinderella Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.
Highest price in the field of six juvenile fillies at 7-1, she took control from Lady Siphonica and Swiss Please while three-wide on the turn for home and cruised to her second win in as many starts. The bay daughter of Souvenir Copy
covered 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.80, rewarding backers with payoffs of $16, $6.40 and $4.60. Fortunate Event, ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., paid $5.80 and $3.20. Swiss Please, the 2-1 favorite under Martin Pedroza, paid $3.
Souvenir Gift, trained by Sam Semkin, is based at San Luis Rey Downs near Del Mar. She shipped north to break her maiden in a two-furlong race April 14 at Santa Anita. Purchased by Semkin and partner Gregory Unruh at Barretts in October, she earned $46,080 Sunday to boost her bankroll to $67,680.