Puerto Banus came from well off the pace to catch Cagney in the final furlong and tally a half-length victory in Sunday's closing day $150,000 Sunset Handicap (gr. IIT) at Hollywood Park.
Ridden by Victor Espinoza, the 4-year-old son of Supremo, trained by Kristin Mulhall for owners Neil Papiano, Steve Taub and Noctis Stable, went 1 1/2 mile on a firm course in 2:26 4/5.
The victory in the Sunset was Mulhall's first career graded stakes win as a trainer.
"It feels great," said Mulhall, who will turn 21 next Sunday. "I knew he would be off the pace like he was, and I was worried he was going to get stuck down on the inside. But Victor did a good job of getting him to the outside, and he rode him great. He asked at the right time."
Continental Red finished third, two lengths behind the winner.
Night Patrol was allowed to set the fractions until the final turn with splits of :48 3/5, 1:13 3/5 and 1:39 3/5. But he quickly folded as the pressure came, leaving Asong For Billy in front with Cagney and Continental Red also vying for the lead. As Asong For Billy tired, Cagney, ridden by Mike Smith forged on better than Continental Red and appeared to be in good position to get the victory.
But Puerto Banus, at 11-1 while carrying 113 pounds, who had moved up while three deep on the final turn, finished strongest of all, defeating the two favorites, each toting 116, with his powerful kick.
"The speed helped today," Espinoza said. "There was more pace than the last time he ran. That's what he likes, to come off the pace and make a strong, long run the last eighth of a mile.
"I think I kind of put a little pressure on the two favorites to move a little bit early. I had control of the race, and it helped a lot today."
Puerto Banus won his first graded stakes race. His third race for Mulhall after nine previous starts for Bob Baffert, Puerto Banus was making his first stakes appearance since finishing fifth in the San Felipe in March 2002. His fourth victory in 13 starts was worth $90,000 and pushed his career earnings to $241,410.
Puerto Banus paid $25.80, $11.60 and $4.40. Cagney returned $4.80 and $2.40. Continental Red's show price was $2.40. The $2 exacta was worth $99.60.