Soi Phet had already been through multiple comebacks during his seven-season career.
In 2013, one start after he was claimed by trainer Leonard Powell for $16,000, he ended a nine-race losing streak with a starter allowance win at Hollywood Park. In 2014 he ended another losing streak with a score in a starter handicap, in 2016 he snapped a 15-race skid with a stakes win, and in 2017 he bounced back from an 11 1/2-length loss to take another stakes.
At 10-years-old and after a fifth-place finish in the April 28 Californian Stakes (G2), beaten by 18 1/2 lengths, he fooled everybody again. The Tizbud gelding was probably done this time, right?
But the $100,000 Crystal Water Stakes for California-breds May 20 at Santa Anita Park was different.
Soi Phet has never been a great grass horse. All six of his previous stakes wins came over dirt, he hadn't won on the surface since that 2014 starter handicap at Santa Anita, and brought in a 1-for-13 grass record into the one-mile test Sunday.
But under Alonso Quinonez behind a wall of horses in the final turn, something clicked with the veteran dark bay. The 47-1 longshot saved ground until the stretch run, got out of the pocket, and battled to the wire in between horses. In a five-wide, blanket finish, the old man got his head down at the wire. B Squared came in second in the four path, a neck ahead of pacesetter Well Developed, who gamely held off multiple graded winner Ashleyluvssugar for third by another neck. Ashleyluvssugar just got his nose in front of Tule Fog for fourth.
Soi Phet has now won a stakes in four seasons—2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018.
"The horse has a big heart and he just showed up," Quinonez said. "I was very confident, but that was the plan—break, get to the rail, follow the speed, let him run turning for home, and see what you got."
In his start before the Crystal Water, Soi Phet dueled for the lead in the Californian and tired, but Powell was not discouraged.
"I wasn't extremely confident, but I always have confidence in the horse," the trainer said. "I knew he was doing well. The last race, when (Californian winner Dr. Dorr) passed him, he said, 'You know what? I'm too old for this. I'll save myself for another day' and today was the day."
Well Developed went to the front early, but never got much of a breather under pressure from Tule Fog on the outside. Fractions went in :23.20, :47.18, and 1:11.01, and Smokey Image joined the fray three wide in the backstretch and final turn.
The rush to the wire was a scramble, and only three-quarters of a length separated the top five finishers. Ashleyluvssugar, who was 8 1/4 lengths back in 10th early on, rallied widest in the stretch and loomed with class and momentum, but didn't have enough of a late surge to get by.
A five-time grade 2 winner, Ashleyluvssugar made his 2018 debut in the Crystal Water at a distance that isn't in his wheelhouse. All of the 7-year-old Game Plan gelding's graded wins have been at 1 1/4 miles or longer, and a start in the Aug. 18 Del Mar Handicap (G2T) at 1 3/8 miles—a race he won in 2016—could be a future target.
"I was very happy with his race," said Ashleyluvssugar's trainer, Peter Eurton. "He stumbled a little bit leaving (the gate) and he was back pretty far off a moderate pace, and pretty wide, which he doesn't normally have to deal with, because he's forwardly placed. To make that run against some good Cal-breds, how can you not be pleased? ... We love the Del Mar Handicap. If he's doing well, that's definitely a big possibility, but we need a race in between."
With the win, Soi Phet moved to the brink of millionaire status. He now has $955,250 in earnings, and the vast majority of that has come for his current owners—Benowitz Family Trust, Mathilde Powell, and Paul Viskovich. Bred in California, out of the Siberian Summer mare Summer Jersey, Soi Phet has a 14-7-6 record from 58 starts.