The Herc, a 2-year-old colt whose 96-year-old owner Sam Longo died Thursday, became the first Oak Tree stakes winner for trainer Gary Stute in the $81,975 Sunny Slope Stakes Saturday at Santa Anita.The Herc dueled from gate to wire with Voladero and won by a nose under jockey Kent Desormeaux.
It was essentially a match race from the beginning as the Herc and Voladero, trained by D. Wayne Lukas and ridden by Mike Smith, ran shoulder to shoulder on the lead for all six furlongs. Neither would yield down the stretch as the pair pulled away from the field, trading the lead and several bumps back and forth. "That was an old-fashioned horse race," Desormeaux said. "They locked into each other leaving the gate and it was a heated battle to the wire. I think we had an angel today. Mr. Longo passed away this week and he was up there holding the other guy back."A steward's inquiry into the contact down the stretch resulted in no change. "I'm very happy (with the decision)," Stute said. "The only bad part was the owner died Thursday night. He'd been in the game a long time and was here about every day."Longgonetrevorsean, ridden by Victor Espinoza, was four lengths back in third. Heavy favorite Cooperation, ridden by Patrick Valenzuela for trainer Bob Baffert, edged up on the outside of the leaders on the turn for home but had nothing left in the stretch and finished fourth. The Herc carried 117 pounds and paid $11.20, $5.60 and $4.40. The winning time was 1:09.51. Voladero carried 115 and paid $6.40 and $4.60. Longgonetrevorsean, 113, paid $9.20. It was The Herc's second straight victory with Desormeaux aboard at Santa Anita, and the first stakes victory of his young career. Saturday's win was worth $49,185 for The Herc, who now has won $69,785 in four starts. There was one winning pick six ticket on Sunday, worth $134,000. (Chart, Equibase)