With the race scenario quickly changing in the backstretch of the $150,000 La Jolla Handicap (G3T) Aug. 6, Gary Stevens and favored Sharp Samurai had to change things up as well.
Last early in the 1 1/16-mile test at Del Mar, Double Touch rushed up on the outside to press the frontrunners in the backstretch, and in the process of his mid-race surge, caused Sharp Samurai to engage more than his Hall of Fame rider wanted to at that stage.
With his hand forced a bit, Stevens made a five-wide move in the turn, Sharp Samurai took the lead in the stretch, and held off a late charge from Fashion Business to win by a head. Sharp Samurai finished off the distance in 1:41.51.
"That was—as they say in Europe—a messy race," Stevens said. "Nothing was happening the way it was supposed to. The horses I thought would go didn't go. It didn't unfold at all like I thought it would. My horse was relaxing, but then Kent (Desormeaux on Double Touch) came up fast outside me and my horse engaged him.
"I got him to settle again and I could see that Flavien (Prat on Colonist) down on the rail was loaded, so I wanted to keep him down there. I had to make my move a little earlier than I normally would. Then after I made my run, here came (Joe) Talamo (on Fashion Business) in the lane."
Fashion Business, a Frankel gelding trained by Phil D'Amato, was in front of the Mark Glatt-trained Sharp Samurai (by First Samurai ) early in the final turn, but Stevens' wide move temporarily boxed in the eventual runner-up. By the time he got clear of the tiring frontrunners in the stretch, Fashion Business had too many lengths to make up.
"I thought I was in good shape," Talamo said. "I was saving ground and I saw Gary's horse was wide all the way. I got through there and he came running. I thought I'd get him. That's a tough beat."
Longshot Placido set the pace, under pressure early from Pioneer Lad, and set fractions of :23.24, :48.29, and 1:12.26 through six furlongs. The two frontrunners were no match from a trio of closers in the stretch, though, which also included Colonist, in his turf debut. The Pioneerof the Nile colt, who finished fourth in the Los Alamitos Derby (G3) last time out, lacked the same kick of the top two, however, and came in third.
Sharp Samurai earned his first win in a $75,000 maiden claiming race on the Santa Anita Park dirt in February, but has found a home on the Southern California turf. He won his grass debut in an April optional-claiming allowance at Santa Anita, finished fourth in the Singletary Stakes May 6, and broke through for his first stakes win June 10 in the Rainbow, his first start with Stevens aboard.
Sharp Samurai now has four wins from seven starts with $195,870 in earnings for Red Baron's Barn, Rancho Temescal, and Glatt, who owns a percentage of the gelding.
"Hopefully he'll come out of it good and it looks like we've got a legit shot in the (Sept. 3) Del Mar Derby (G2T)," Glatt said. "This race didn't quite unfold like we thought it might. Gary made a smart move down the backside not to go with the horse that made a premature move. Instead of going with that horse to keep his position, he waited. It meant going a little wide on the turn, but he said in the paddock, 'He's the best horse in the race and I'm going to ride him like he's the best.'"
Glatt purchased Sharp Samurai for $85,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale. The gelding was bred by Cudney Stables, out of the stakes-winning Street Cry mare Secret Wish.
The victory moved Stevens into a tie for third place with Laffit Pincay Jr. for stakes wins (96) at Del Mar.