Ashleyluvssugar opened a long, comfortable lead down the backstretch, then was all out in the stretch to deny fast-finishing Metaboss by the slimmest margin in the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) Presented by the Japanese Racing Association Aug. 20.
A 5-year-old son of Game Plan ridden by Gary Stevens for trainer Peter Eurton, Ashleyluvssugar took over from front-runner El Huerfano to lead the first time past the grandstand and was never headed thereafter. He covered 1 3/8 miles on turf in 2:16.11 to earn his first win from three starts this year while going one better than his runner-up finish in last year's edition of the race.
Ashleyluvssugar, third in the Eddie Read (gr. IIT) July 17, paid $7, $4, and $2.80, Metaboss returned $5.20 and $3.80, and Texas Ryano paid $15.20 to show.
With the win, Ashleyluvssugar earned an automatic berth in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) Nov. 5 at Santa Anita Park as the Del Mar Handicap is a Breeders' Cup Win & You're In race.
Ashleyluvssugar and El Huerfano started swiftly from the gate, but El Huerfano went to the front and set the opening quarter-mile time of :25.27. Wide on the first turn Ashleyluvssugar eagerly took the lead, passing the post for the first time, before getting the half-mile time of :49.62 and then opening up by six lengths down the backstretch with EL Huerfano in closest pursuit.
After six furlongs went in 1:14.48, Ashleyluvssugar seemed to find another gear around the final turn and nearing the home turn as rivals closed in. Leading by two lengths into the lane, he looked to have the victory ensured, but in the final furlong, 2015 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) winner Metaboss powered into the picture. Last in the 12-horse field with three furlongs to run, he swung six wide and unleashed a ground-devouring rally for Rafael Bejarano and steadily reeled in the leader and missed his first graded win by a nose.
"Son of a .....!" Bejarano said of the narrow defeat for Metaboss. "I hate to get beat like that. Hate it. My horse was flying. I thought sure I'd won."
Texas Ryano, a stakes winner at Santa Anita last year, raced in fourth throughout with Joe Talamo, and launched a willingly rally to get his first graded placing.
Campaigned by breeders Sharon Alesia, Bran Jam Stable, and Ciaglia Racing, Ashleyluvssugar posted his seventh victory, and third graded win, from 16 starts. The California-bred out of the Urgent Request mare Ashley's Folly won last year's Charles Whittingham Stakes and San Luis Rey Stakes (both gr. IIT).
El Huerfano was fourth, followed by Wanstead Gardens, Finnegans Wake, Power Foot, Flamboyant, Express Himself, Quick Casablanca and Patentar in a dead heat for 10th, and Belisarius to complete the order of finish.