Stablemate Perfect Moon ensured a blazing pace and late charging Harvard Avenue took care of the rest, winning the $194,000 Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) for sprinters and capping a four-stakes weekend for hot trainer Doug O'Neill.
Ridden by Garrett Gomez, the 4-year-old gelding Harvard Avenue snapped a 10-race losing streak. He was last in the field of nine in mid-stretch but powered home from the center of the course to win by a half-length over Rushin' to Altar in 1:16. Harvard Avenue launched his winning bid from six or seven wide on the turn.
Gomez said Harvard Avenue didn't respond early.
"I didn't think he'd be back as far as he was. He actually kicked in really well for me today.
"By the time I got to the top of the stretch he actually really built my confidence up," Gomez said. "By the time I hit the quarter pole and was swinging out, I was just hoping I had enough room to get to them. I knew I had the horse, it was just a matter of having enough time."
The Ron Crockett owned and bred Harvard Avenue, a dark bay son of You and I, won his first graded stakes and finished first at Santa Anita for the first time in seven tries.
On Saturday, trainer O'Neill won the WinStar Derby (Thor's Echo) and WinStar Sunland Park Oaks (Cee's Irish) in New Mexico, as well as the Tokyo City Handicap (gr. III) with Supah Blitz at Santa Anita.
O'Neill, Santa Anita's all-time single-season training leader, now has 51 wins at the current meet, 10 in stakes races.
"They ran very fast early today and the track really wasn't playing for speed horses so Perfect Moon ran a dynamite race to hold on like he did as fast as he went," O'Neill said. "But definitely the race was set up well for Harvard Avenue."
With 40-1 Onebadshark on the lead, Perfect Moon and Corey Nakatani kept the pressure on through sizzling fractions of :21 1/5 and :43 4/5. Perfect Moon took over as they came off the turn and continued to lead to the furlong marker before a wall of closers engulfed him from all sides. Rushin 'to Altar was closing strongest of all with Gary Stevens aboard but had to alter his course to avoid the drifting Perfect Moon.
From far back, Harvard Avenue soared to the lead, prevailing over Rushin' to Altar as the two vied while all out in the late stages.
"He ran huge, but he ran into some traffic the last hundred yards," Stevens confirmed. "The horse in front (Perfect Moon) was getting tired and backing up in my face, and I had to kind of steady around him, and it just hurt my horse's momentum. The winner, he ran a good race. He might have beat us anyway."
Roi Charmant, ridden by Victor Espinoza, two lengths farther back, also finished up nicely to be third without threatening the first two. Perfect Moon held on for fourth.
Eight-year-old gelding Hasty Kris, the 2-1 favorite who was seeking his third straight victory after winning the San Carlos (gr. II) Feb. 26, was never involved with Rene Douglas and finished sixth. The public's two other fancied runners, 118-pound high weight Saint Afleet (7-2), who was fifth, and Ice Wynnd Fire (4-1), finishing seventh, were also disappointing.
Harvard Avenue won for the third time in his 15-race career and increased his earnings to $338,106. His last victory came at Emerald Downs Aug. 30, 2003, when he won the WTBA Lads Stakes for trainer Tom Wenzel. Owner Crockett is the president of Emerald Downs. Harvard Avenue was beaten by a half-length by Hasty Kris in the San Carlos his last start.
O'Neill said he didn't know what's next for Harvard Avenue, adding, "I know his owners have the Longacres Mile (gr. III) as his goal."
The $250,000 Longacres Mile is Aug. 29 at Emerald Downs.
The fourth choice, Harvard Avenue paid $12.60, $6.60 and $4.40. Rushin' to Altar returned $9.20 and $5.70 while completing a $121.40 exacta. Roi Charmant's show was $8.20.
After Perfect Moon, the order was Saint Afleet, Hasty Kris, Ice Wynnd Fire, Jungle Prince and Onebadshark.
Trainer Mike Mitchell scratched morning line favorite Kela.