Avanzado, captures Forest Hills Handicap at Belmont Park.

Avanzado, captures Forest Hills Handicap at Belmont Park.

AP/NYRA: Adam Coglianese

Avanzado Invades Belmont for Forest Hills Win

Avanzado proved he didn't need the lead to win Sunday at Belmont Park, running down fading pacesetting Sunray Spirit in the stretch to post a two-length win in the six-furlong Forest Hills Handicap (gr. II).

Shipping from California, where he had demonstrated superior speed in two gate-to-wire wins after arriving from Argentina, the 5-year-old burst out of the gate once more.

But when Sunray Spirit forced her way to the front, Avanzado, ridden by Tyler Baze, settled in behind him. Sunray Spirit clicked off fractions of :22 1/5, :45 3/5 and :57 4/5 before fading in the stretch.

Avanzado held off Dash For Daylight, with Esteemed Friend getting third. The winning time was 1:11. It was his third straight win for John Cooper and Cees Stable.

Avanzado swerved at the finish line as though taking a bad step, but was apparently not injured.

Winning trainer Doug O'Neill said he did the same thing when he galloped past the wire while training two days ago.

"He did the exact same thing," O'Neill said. "My rider thinks it was the 'Belmont Park' sign on the inside of the track. That was scary. The time was a little slow, but when he can act like that at the wire, you know he's not too tired."

O'Neill added, "He's trained like a really nice horse, but you don't expect them to string three together like he has. He's on a great run."

The 19-year-old Baze said, "He's my first nice horse. He tries so hard. He's good now, but I'm hoping he keeps improving."

Based in California like O'Neill, this was Baze's first ride in New York.

"I'm glad I finally was able to come to New York. This is a great track. Winning a stake here is a big accomplishment for me."

An Argentine bred by Luhuk, Avanzado was five-for-15 in his native country. He arrived in California prior to the Del Mar meeting. Sunday's $150,000 winner's share more than doubled his career bankroll to $384,000.

Sent off at 3-2 in the field of seven, he paid $5, $3.20 and $3.10. Dash For Daylight returned $5.20 and $3.50. Esteemed Friend paid $7.10

(Chart, Equibase)