Free Rose wins the 2016 La Jolla Handicap.

Free Rose wins the 2016 La Jolla Handicap.

Benoit Photo

Free Rose Speeds to La Jolla Victory

Frontrunner set fast fractions and held off all challengers.

In his second start since moving to trainer Richard Baltas and owner Abbondanza Racing, Free Rose provided a weekend stunner at Del Mar Aug. 6 in the$150,000 La Jolla Handicap (gr. IIIT). 

Video: La Jolla H. (G3T)

The 3-year-old Munnings  gelding went to the front from the inside post in the 1 1/16-mile turf test and never relented under jockey Joe Talamo.

Free Rose set fractions of :22.29, :46.59, and 1:10.97 through six furlongs and held off a late drive from Lucky Bryan to win by a half-length. He hit the wire in 1:40.73 and paid $59.80 to win as the second longest shot on the board.

"We were going fast, but his ears were up and he was relaxed," Talamo said. "The key to the race was at the three-eighths pole. A horse came up alongside, but then he let us go. My horse took a couple of breaths and then he went."

It was Free Rose's first win since a front-running allowance score at Keeneland in April, when he scored at 55-1 on the turf. In his first start for Baltas, against older horses in a conditional turf allowance at Del Mar July 23, Free Rose finished third.

"It was against some really nice older horses and he ran a nice third," Baltas said. "The whole idea, when this horse was bought back east, was to try the Oceanside (Stakes), but (when we didn't get in) we wanted to take a shot."

Three of the four turf races Saturday at Del Mar went to wire-to-wire winners and Baltas said after the race that the grass course could be favoring speed.

"I think the turf course has changed in the last week," said Baltas, who added Free Rose would likely head to the Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) next. "In the beginning of the meet it was closers, but this week especially, horses up close have been performing well."

Moonlight Drive completed the trifecta with a third-place finish, followed by 2-1 favorite and last-out Oceanside winner Monster Bea, Liam the Charmer, Dressed in Hermes, Mr. Roary, Ebadan, Burger and Fries, and Imperious One, to complete the order of finish.

Bred by Nathan John McCauley, out of the El Prado mare Birdie Birdie, Free Rose now has a 3-1-2 record from 10 starts and earnings of $164,760.