Stan Fulton's A.P. Warrior made his turf debut a successful one when he nosed favorite Porto Santo in the $150,000 La Jolla Handicap (gr. IIT) for 3-year-olds at Del Mar Saturday.
The strapping son of A.P. Indy
, ridden by David Flores, emerged with a victory under slight left-handed urging, locking up on the inside of the closing Porto Santo for a superb stretch battle in the 1 1/16-mile La Jolla.
"I heard (Porto Santo) come up outside me at the eighth pole, but I could feel my horse dig in," Flores said. "He went hard. That is one of the great feelings in life – to have your horse fight back and not let another horse pass. He wasn't going to let them get by him today."
The winning time was an excellent 1:40 3/5, second fastest since the race was changed from the one-mile distance in 1987. Singletary set the stakes mark of 1:40 1/5 in 2003.
With the victory, A.P. Warrior becomes a leading candidate for the $400,000 Del Mar Derby (gr. II) on the grass at nine furlongs Sept. 3. A.P. Warrior carried the high weight assignment of 120 pounds, two more than the runner-up.
Trainer John Shirreffs switched A.P. Warrior to the turf after the colt ran third, beaten by nine lengths, at odds of 17-10 in the Swaps Breeders' Cup (gr. II) at Hollywood Park July 8. A.P. Warrior, who finished 18th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), recorded his first victory since taking the San Felipe (gr. II) at Santa Anita in March.
A.P. Warrior tracked the pace while running third off the rail, rallying between horses in the stretch to get the victory in game fashion. Shirreffs credited Flores with getting A.P. Warrior to settle off the pace Saturday.
"He's been in some funny situations where he went head to head with Point Determined a couple of times, which probably wasn't a good thing for him," Shirreffs said. "All horses like to get into a nice rhythm and save something for the end, whether it's close or far back depending on the style. They have their own little comfort zone. They all need to develop a style and that's important."
Porto Santo, the 13-10 choice who closed from the rear of the seven-horse field under Norberto Arroyo Jr., just missed again in his second United States start for trainer Julio Canani. Porto Santo, group I placed in France as a 2-year-old, finished a head behind Obrigado in a division of the one-mile Oceanside on opening day of the Del Mar meeting July 19. Bernard C. Schiappa and the Lanni Family Trust purchased the French-bred son of Kingsalsa from David C. Milch prior to the La Jolla.
Get Funky, who battled The Five J's for the lead and set fractions of :23 3/5, :48 and 1:11 4/5 and fought on gamely before being passed in the stretch, ran third, beaten three-quarters of a length.
Swaps hero Arson Squad, like the winner making his turf debut, saved ground all the way for Alex Solis but failed to make much headway in the stretch and finished fourth. Solis said Arson Squad, a son of Brahms
, was not the same horse on the sod.
"I got stopped one time. But that wasn't what got him beat here," Solis said. "He just didn't like the grass. Not the course, this course is fine. But he just wasn't comfortable on the surface. I know he's bred for it, but he's a way better horse on the dirt."
A.P. Warrior earned $90,000 for his fourth win in 12 starts and has banked $530,595 in his career.
He paid $13, $4.80 and $3.40. Porto Santo returned $3.40 and $2.60, completing a $39.80 exacta. Get Funky was $3.40 to show.
Caribbean, The Five J's and Icy Ridge trailed.