Bobby Abu Dhabi (inside) holds off Ransom the Moon to win the Kona Gold Stakes at Santa Anita Park

Bobby Abu Dhabi (inside) holds off Ransom the Moon to win the Kona Gold Stakes at Santa Anita Park

Benoit Photo

Bobby Abu Dhabi Makes the Grade in Kona Gold

Macho Uno colt found room on the rail and prevailed by 1 1/4 lengths.

Rockingham Ranch and David Bernsen's Bobby Abu Dhabi backed up his gritty runner-up effort in the Triple Bend Stakes (G1) with his first graded score in the $200,000 Kona Gold Stakes (G2) April 21 at Santa Anita Park.

After breaking best from post 2 in the field of five under jockey Victor Espinoza, Bobby Abu Dhabi dueled briefly with Peter Miller-trained stablemate Calculator early in the 6 1/2-furlong test, dropped back to second entering the turn, then shot through to the front on the rail as Calculator began to tire.

In the clear on the front, Bobby Abu Dhabi opened up a 2 1/2-length lead with a furlong to run and held off a late closing effort from favored grade 1 winner and defending Kona Gold victor Ransom the Moon to win by 1 1/4 lengths in a final time of 1:15.40.

"He ran great. For some reason, he's been a little sharper leaving the gate in his last two races," Espinoza said of the 4-year-old Macho Uno  colt, who set a rapid pace in the Triple Bend last time out and was only beaten 1 1/2 lengths by multiple grade 1 winner City of Light. "He came out of the gate running and ... (Miller's) other horse, Calculator, showed a lot of speed, so I eased off of him just a little bit. This horse is really focused right now, and he's moving forward."

Ransom the Moon, the 2017 Bing Crosby Stakes (G1) winner, finished 4 1/4 lengths clear of Blameitonthelaw, who passed Calculator late for third. Calculator set fractions of :22.15 and :44.60 through a half-mile.

The race was marred by the fatal breakdown of Hal and Patti Earnhardt's homebred Ten Blessings, who was stalking the pace in fourth midway through the turn before he was pulled up by jockey Drayden Van Dyke. The 5-year-old son of Smart Strike, out of the two-time champion Indian Blessing, fractured both sesamoids in his left front leg and was euthanized after the race, according to the stewards at Santa Anita.

Bred in Kentucky by T/C Stable, Bobby Abu Dhabi pushed his earnings to $345,100 with his first stakes win. A $335,000 purchase by Rockingham Ranch from Grassroots Training & Sales' consignment to the 2016 Ocala Breeders' Sales spring sale of 2-year-olds in training, Bobby Abu Dhabi now has four wins and two seconds from eight starts.

"He's a fast horse, and he doesn't need the lead, which is nice," Miller said. "I told Victor, 'If you break on top and make the lead, fine, but if someone else gets it, he can sit second or third.'

"Victor gave him a super ride. He saved all the ground and cut the corner, kicked away, and I think that was the difference."

Video: Kona Gold S. (G2)