Carla Gaines would have been more comfortable bringing Bolo back from a seven-month layoff in an allowance race, but with limited opportunities on the West Coast, the trainer dove directly into graded stakes waters.
And it paid off.
The one-time Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) longshot fired his best off the layoff in the $200,000 Arcadia Stakes (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita Park, where he caught odds-on grade I winner Obviously in the final strides to secure his first graded victory.
The son of Temple City , owned by Golden Pegasus Racing and Earle Mack, raced in second, two lengths behind Obviously as he sprinted to fractions of :22.70, :45.67, and 1:09.13 through six furlongs.
"The horse had a terrific trip," Gaines said. "I felt he'd be sitting right behind the leaders and he would still have a kick home (and) that's exactly what happened... I expected him to be fairly close to the speed (but those) were quick fractions and I just kept thinking, 'Oh, please don't get tired.' "
Still two lengths back at the top of the stretch, jockey Flavien Prat asked Bolo and the 4-year-old colt answered. He chipped away at the lead, as Obviously covered seven furlongs in 1:20.99 but made up the most ground in the final sixteenth to win by a neck.
"You have to be closer on the turf the way it's playing, so it worked out well," Prat said. "I knew the pace was already fast, but I had to get out and go."
The pair hit the wire in 1:33.09 for the mile and paid $17.40, $7.20, and $3 across the board. Obviously, off as the 4-5 favorite, returned $3 and $2.10. Om, who uncharacteristically raced five lengths back in third early, moved up into contention in the final turn, but lacked a late kick and finished third, 2 3/4 lengths back.
"They went (1:33) to beat us," said Obviously's rider, Mike Smith. "That's pretty impressive. I wouldn't say this track favors speed, but he just got run down today."
Cape Wolfe finished an even fourth, followed by Yes Yes Yes, to complete the order of finish. Big Cazanova and Prospect Park were scratched to run in a dirt allowance Feb. 14.
Bred in Kentucky by Spendthrift Farm, Bolo is out of the Chief Seattle mare Aspen Mountain and has a 4-0-2 record from nine starts. His earnings hit $408,700 with his first graded win. Gaines said after the race that Bolo will point to the $400,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (gr. IT) March 12 at Santa Anita for his next start.
Bolo broke his maiden at 2 on the Del Mar grass late in 2014 and won the mile Eddie Logan Stakes at Santa Anita in his next start, but was put on the Triple Crown trail early in his 3-year-old year. He finished third behind Dortmund in both the San Felipe (gr. II) and Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) to earn a spot in the gate in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), but was never really involved at Churchill Downs and finished 12th.
He returned to win a May allowance on the turf again at Santa Anita, inspiring his connections to try the Belmont Derby invitational (gr. IT), in which he finished ninth as the 2-1 favorite in his last start of 2015.