Buddy Gil and jockey Gary Stevens took advantage of a red-hot pace to win Sunday's $114,550 Baldwin Stakes (gr. IIIT) for 3-year-olds on the Santa Anita downhill turf course.
The bay gelding by Eastern Echo swung six wide on the dirt portion of the turn for home to run down speedy pacesetter King Robyn in mid-stretch, going on to record a two-length triumph. Final time for the about 6 1/2-furlong distance was 1:12 2/5, one second off the course record.
Shipping from Golden Gate Fields, where he ran seventh in the Golden Gate Derby (gr. III) in the mud on Jan. 11 in his last start, Buddy Gil was making his first start for trainer Jeff Mullins. Buddy Gil, in his initial start on grass, was sent off at 26-1, second-longest shot in the field of 11.
Mullins, who hadn't planned to start Buddy Gil in the Baldwin, acknowledged his luck.
"Wasn't anyplace else to run him," said Mullins, who is red-hot at the current Santa Anita meeting with 15 victories and a 33 percent win rate. "We had intended to run him in a second-level allowance last week, but the race didn't go. This was our second option. He got a great pace to run at. It just worked out."
King Robyn, also making his debut on grass for Mullins at odds of 9-1, busted out of the gate with Alex Solis aboard to establish a narrow advantage over Only The Best, ridden by Patrick Valenzuela. The duo smoked through early splits of :21 4/5 for the opening quarter and :43 2/5 for the half before King Robyn was able to open up a clear advantage of two lengths in the stretch after a furiously fast six-furlong fraction of 1:06 2/5.
Buddy Gil, running fifth while uncovered behind the first group of horses into the turn, angled wide for the pursuit of the leader. As they straightened for the stretch, he exploded out of the pack to engage King Robyn, eventually wearing him down with his relentless drive.
Previously trained by Charles Jenda in Northern California, Buddy Gil now has won three times in seven starts. He earned $68,730 in the Baldwin to pad his bankroll to $129,455. He is owned in partnership by Scott Guenther of Newport Beach, Cal., Charles Johnson of Covina, Cal., and Donnie McFadden of Hagerman, Idaho.
"The owners sent the horse to me here because there had been bad weather up north, where he'd been training," Mullins said.
Stevens won his second stakes race in three days since beginning a comeback last week. He had been out of action for three months while working as a featured actor in the upcoming movie, "Seabiscuit: An American Legend." He won the Reb's Policy Handicap at Santa Anita on Friday with Grandiser, an Australian-bred who paid $46.40.
"I feel great," said Stevens. "I thought this was the first horse I had ridden for Jeff (Mullins) but he pulled the old win picture out of his office the other morning – 1981 at Le Bois Park. His very first win and I rode for him. I didn't even remember. We were both 18 years old, so this was kind of cool.
Buddy Gil was bred in Kentucky by Billingsley Creek Ranch.
The winner paid $55.40, $22.80 and $12.40. King Robyn returned $11 and $7.40. Flirt With Fortune, who closed from far back for jockey Corey Nakatani to get third, paid $4.80 for the show. The all-Mullins $2 exacta was worth $479.
Apalachian Thunder, the 5-2 favorite, was fourth in a three-way photo. Seven of the horses were making their turf debuts. Roll Hennessy Roll took up badly after the start, but rallied to get fifth.