The graded stakes winning sprinter McCann's Mojave was able to dictate the pace and hold 6-5 favorite Desert Boom at bay to record a one-length win in the $250,000 California Cup Classic presented by Smith Barney Sunday on the final day of the 2005 Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting.
Desert Boom drew even on the outside of the pacesetting McCann's Mojave inside the eighth pole, but the gutsy 5-year-old fought back under Jose Valdivia Jr. to register a slight upset in the 1 1/8-mile main event to the 2005 California Cup.
"When (Desert Boom) came to us, he looked him in the eye and dug in," said Valdivia, who picked up the mount when Alex Solis was unable to ride after being injured a fall two days earlier. "I thought, man, this is going to be a dog fight, and I'm on the right horse."
Valdivia, who only recently returned to riding after breaking a leg earlier this year, was the regular rider of McCann's Mojave before he was hurt. He was aboard the 5-year-old Memo horse when he won the 6 1/2-furlong Portrero Grande (gr. II) at Santa Anita last year.
"He's got a heart as big as he is, and I'm just glad I got him back," Valdivia said. "Turning for home he felt like a monster. He just kept digging and fighting, that's what's so great about him."
But McCann's Mojave had slumped recently and was off the board in his last two starts – a seventh-place showing in the Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) and a fifth a month ago in the Ancient Title Breeders' Cup (gr. I).
Trainer Paddy Gallagher removed blinkers following the Ancient Title and opted to stretch him out to the longest distance of his career against California breds Sunday. McCann's Mojave got the job done in 1:48 1/5 while leading throughout.
"They went pretty fast but he kept it up," Gallagher said. "I was happy through the lane until about the sixteenth pole, and then I got a bit loud there (rooting)."
McCann's Mojave was nominated to three Cal Cup races: the Classic, the Mile (turf), and the Sprint (six furlongs).
"We always wanted to stretch him out and we thought this race looked easier of the three spots, and we got lucky," Gallagher said.
Desert Boom, who had a three-race winning streak earlier this year for trainer Jeff Mullins, settled for second under Roberto Gonzalez, three-quarters of a length in front of Cheroot and David Flores. Texcess, wide every step of the way, loomed into contention at the top of the stretch but finished fourth.
McCann's Mojave set solid fractions of :22 3/5, :46 2/5 and 1:09 4/5 and was already under strong urging from Valdivia as he came under pressure from Desert Boom coming off the turn. The bay won for the seventh time in 15 starts for owner/breeders Mike Willman, Santa Anita's publicity director, and Nikki Hunt. The win increased his career earnings to $555,380.
Willman, who also hosts a popular Southern California radio racing show, said it was his biggest win in 21 years of ownership.
"I thought I had it," said Gonzalez of the runner-up. "The first part, I thought he'd show a little more speed than he did. He relaxed on the backside and he gave it to me when I asked him. It's just that the other horse never stopped."
The second choice in the field of eight, McCann's Mojave paid $8.60, $3.80 and $3.20.
Desert Boom returned $3 and $2.40.
Cheroot was $4 to show.
Texcess, in fourth, was followed by Mr. Joe C, Deputy Doc Renzi, Carano, and Devil Badgett.