In a perfectly timed ride, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens guided Ashleyluvssugar to a second victory in the $200,000 Charles Whittingham Stakes (G2T) May 28, run at 1 1/4 miles over Santa Anita Park's turf course.
The Peter Eurton trained California-bred also won the 2015 edition of the race with Stevens when it was contested at 1 1/2 miles.
"Being on the lead, going this far, at his age, he gets tired; it's difficult to take all that pressure," Eurton said. "As you could see, he was a little keen that first quarter, but going a mile and a quarter, he's better off running this way. I didn't know if Gary was going to be able to get through, but Gary said he was loaded and he sure was."
Owned and bred by Sharon Alesia, Bran Jam Stables, and Ciaglia Racing, Ashleyluvssugar stopped the clock in 1:58.49 to win by a half-length.
Out of the gate Patentar took control early and opened up a three-length lead with a quarter-mile left in the race before the field closed the gap. The frontrunner set fractions of :23.86, :47.78, 1:11.16, and 1:34.45 through a mile before weakening in the stretch. In a scramble for the finish in the final furlong, Stevens guided Ashleyluvssugar between horses to get the lead before the wire.
"I pulled on him and he settled for me," Stevens said. "They were lined up going down the backside and they were going a fair enough pace for a mile and a quarter. I was hoping for room and I got the split I needed at the head of the stretch. He just exploded."
While favoritism bounced between Itsinthepost and Ashleyluvssugar before the gates opened, the winner went off as the second choice at odds of 5-2 to pay $7, $3.80, and $3 across the board. Frank Conversation got up for second by a head and paid $7.80 and $4.20, and Syntax placed third to pay $4.60.
Prior to the Whittingham, Ashleyluvssugar started the year off with a half-length score over grade 1 winner What A View in the Jan. 28 California Cup Turf Classic presented by City National Bank. The 6-year-old Game Plan gelding then finished third in the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey (G2T) March 25 behind Itsinthepost and Syntax.
"He's like a little deer, he just keeps on going," Eurton said. "He just has amazing lungs to do it, each and every time. To be on the lead for (the first) mile and a quarter last time out and not get overtaken was just too much for him and it really took it out if him."
The San Luis Rey defeat helped shape the game plan for the connections going into the Whittingham.
"I talked to Pete (Sunday) morning and we were on the same page," Stevens said. "We didn't want to be sitting ducks like last time. My horse can't sustain a long run, but he can run a long ways."
Last year the gelding won the Del Mar Handicap Presented by The Japan Racing Association and the John Henry Turf Championship Stakes (both G2T) at Del Mar and Santa Anita, respectively. Although not yet a grade 1 winner, Ashleyluvssugar has a record of 10-3-4 from 22 starts and $1,289,004 in earnings.