Smith Stays Home, Wins Gamely in Upset

Jockey Mike Smith, bumped from Azeri for Monday's Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I), notched a grade I win on Memorial Day anyway. He guided Noches De Rosa to an upset victory over a furiously closing Megahertz in the $324,250 Gamely Handicap (gr. IT) for fillies and mares at Hollywood Park.

Smith had ridden the champion Azeri in all 18 of her starts, but was taken off in the Met Mile in favor of Pat Day. But Smith came out of it favorably when Azeri was off the board at Belmont Park in New York.

"Whew, that takes some of the sting out (of losing the Azeri mount)," Smith said after winning the Gamely, which was run about 30 minutes before the Metropolitan.

Noches De Rosa won by a length in a time of 1:48 1/5 in the 1 1/8-mile Gamely, which was contested on a very firm turf.

Megahertz, who carried co-high weight of 122 pounds, seven more than the Chilean-bred Noches De Rosa, was the 3-5 favorite in the four-horse Gamely. But she tailed off badly under Victor Espinoza on the backstretch by about 15 lengths as Noches De Rosa and Quero Quero set a dawdling pace (:25 2/5, :49 2/5) for the first half-mile.

"The grass was a little bit hard for her, and into the first turn, I had to touch her shoulder a couple of times because she was getting a little bit too far back," Espinoza said. "I knew the leaders were going pretty easy, and I wanted to get up right next to them. But she just wouldn't go. For I while I thought we weren't going to finish ahead of anyone."

Things heated up as the field came out of the final turn (1:12 for six furlongs). Noches De Rosa, who had conceded the lead to Quero Quero, and Dimitrova swung up on the outside. The three dueled through the stretch until Dimitrova backed out, leaving the early pacesetters to battle it out. But Megahertz flying along the inside but still eight lengths behind when they hit the stretch after cutting the turn nicely, was far from done. The talented 5-year-old mare, looking for her fourth consecutive graded stakes victory, nearly tallied under a drive, but ran out of room while edging Quero Quero for second by a head.

Smith said Noches De Rosa resisted being kept on the rail and didn't kick in until moved to the outside on the far turn.

"You could just feel her take a deep breath of relief," he said. "I knew then that I was going to finish and it was just a matter of her being good enough.

"Certainly, I was concerned about Megahertz, but I didn't realize until watching now just how far back she was."

Noches De Rosa, a 6-year-old Stagecraft mare, turned the tables on Megahertz, who beat her by a length in the 1/4-mile Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. IIT), her last start on April 17 at Santa Anita.

Winning trainer Richard Mandella said the Santa Barbara was a tip-off his mare was ready to produce a big effort.

"Her last race was dynamite, she ran her heart out. (Megahertz) just outfooted her in the last part."

Mandella said Quero Quero taking the lead was a surprise.

"Actually I was a little worried," Mandella admitted. "We planned to open up a length or two and slow it down all we could. Then down the backside (Quero Quero) ran up and hooked her pretty good and ended up leaving her at the quarter pole there for a little bit. I was a little concerned, but I think Mike was just taking his time and not getting in a panic, and when he rallied her back up, boy she came."

A group I winner in her native Chile, she won for the third time in 12 starts in the United States for owner Gerald A. Ford's Diamond A Racing Corp. She pushed her career earnings to $520,873 with Monday's winning slice of $187,500.

The winner paid $8.60 and $2.80 as the third choice in the field. Megahertz returned $2.20. The exacta was worth $14.40.

(Chart, Equibase)