Meteor Storm, overlooked at 7-1 in the wagering, burst to the lead in the stretch and held off a late rally by Labirinto and scored a neck victory Saturday in the $200,000 San Luis Rey Handicap (gr. IIT) for older turf runners at Santa Anita Park.
Ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr. and carrying 115 pounds, Meteor Storm ran 1 ½ miles in 2:26 on firm turf and paid $17.60, $8.80 and $6.80. The victory was the first stakes triumph for the consistent 5-year-old English-bred by Runaway Groom. Wally Dollase is the trainer of Meteor Storm for owners Mike Jarvis of Manhatten Beach, Gary Margolis of Arcadia and Ken Smole of San Francisco.
Labirinto, a talented but high-strung Theatrical gelding, unleashed a furious late rally but settled for second place. Ridden by Javier Santiago at 114 pounds, the runner-up returned $6.40 and $4.80.
Gene de Campeao, a 30-1 shot ridden by Omar Berrio at 112 pounds, took the lead on the last turn and battled gamely to the wire while finishing third. The Brazilian-bred paid $15.80 for show.
Runaway Dancer, 5-2 favorite Puerto Banus, White Buck, Toccet, Special Matter, Asong for Billy and Continental Red completed the order of finish. Continental Red, the 2002 San Luis Rey winner, went to his knees at the break and was never a factor.
Researched was scratched earlier in the day.
Meteor Storm settled into fourth place early as Toccet led through the opening mile, competed in 1:37 4/5. Gene de Campeao rallied to the lead on the last turn, but was quickly tackled by Meteor Storm, who forged to the lead in mid-stretch and then held off Labirinto.
"I had a perfect trip," said Valdivia, who snapped a streak of 73 consecutive losses Friday with back-to-back wins at Santa Anita.
"And this horse has a turn of foot. I knew it would take a very special horse to beat me as we turned for home. It was a very, very game performance."
Dollase, who won the 1996 San Luis Rey with the mare Windsharp, said Meteor Storm would be pointed to the $300,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap at 1 3/4 miles on April 18.
Meteor Storm began his career in France and has an overall mark of 12-4-3-3 with earnings of $255,884. The San Luis Rey victory was worth $120,000.
Corey Nakatani and Victor Espinoza each rode three winners on the 10-race card.