Ro Parra's Even the Score established himself as one of the favorites in next month's Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) with a sharp 3 1/2-length score in Saturday's $250,000 Californian (gr. II) at Hollywood Park.
In spite of a wide trip throughout, Even the Score moved up four-wide on the turn for home under David Flores, swept past the leaders and gradually pulled away for the victory. Total Impact, who battled for the lead between front-running Ender's Shadow and the winner in the stretch, proved to be no match but was a clear second, two lengths ahead of Nose The Trade. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile Californian was an excellent 1:47 3/5.
The gray 6-year-old horse by Unbridled's Song
out of the Rahy mare Ashtabula won his second in a row for trainer Vladimir Cerin after a similarly impressive two-length score in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood May 8. One of only three horses to record that double, Even the Score would be the likely favorite for the 1 1/4-mil Gold Cup, which is July 10, except for the expected presence of Southern Image.
Even the Score would join Eleven Stitches (1981) to sweep the Mervyn LeRoy, the Californian and the Hollywood Gold Cup if he can win the $750,000 Gold Cup.
"I think he is capable of doing anything," Flores said. "He proved it today, and I hope he proves it next time (Hollywood Gold Cup). It would just be great to be only the second horse to sweep the Mervyn LeRoy, this race, and the Gold Cup."
Cerin has also considered returning his charge to the turf, where he has won three of 16 and more than $250,000.
"This is a little tougher race (than his last)," said Cerin, who leads the current Hollywood Park meeting with four stakes victories. "He had to go wide and he overcame the obstacles that he had to, to show he's a good horse. He runs like a true professional, close to the pace, makes his run and holds on."
Even the Score carried top weight of 118 pounds while breaking from the outside in the field of eight as the 9-10 favorite. He chased the realistic pace of Ender's Shadow (:23 2/5, :46 3/5, 1:10 1/5) while on the outside in sixth place and rallied nicely on the turn. He had plenty left for the stretch run, eventually pulling away under some urging.
"Well, he opened up so strong in the end," Flores said. "I just got after him to make him get something out of this race. Hopefully, the mile-and-a-quarter will be good for him. He surely likes this track, and I think he got even better this time."
Total Impact also stalked the pace on the outside while staying closer to the front end for Mike Smith. Nose The Trade, bumped on the final turn while racing along the inside, came out for the stretch run with Alex Solis and edged Gift of the Eagle by a neck for the show spot.
Ender's Shadow finished fifth, followed by Buckland Manor, Mud Shark and Gene de Campeao. Fonz's was scratched.
Even the Score now sports a 9-1-8 record in 28 lifetime appearances with earnings of $661,629.
Aspiration Stable in Kentucky bred the winner, who paid $3.80, $2.80 and $2.20. Total Impact returned $4.20 and $2.60. Nose The Trade was $3 to show.