Texcess, winless since capturing the $1 million Delta Jackpot as a 2-year-old in December 2004, ended his long drought with a smart victory in the $250,000 California Cup Classic Saturday at Oak Tree's Santa Anita meeting.
Trained by Mike Mitchell since Carl Van Burger paid $300,000 for the 4-year-old In Excess
gelding at Barretts in January, Texcess had to overcome the outside post in the field of nine. Victor Espinoza rode him to victory by three-quarters of a length over pacesetter Cheroot. Iced Out finished third, four lengths behind the winner. Top This and That, the 5-2 favorite in the 1 1/8-mile test, was last of the loosely bunched field for much of the way and was never a factor, finishing fifth. The winning time was 1:48 1/5.
"I really believe it was time for him to win a race now," Espinoza said.
Texcess was thought to have loads of potential as a 2-year-old when he also won the 2004 Cal Cup Juvenile before journeying to Delta Downs for his rich victory for trainer Paul Aguirre. Espinoza rode him that day in Louisiana as well.
But he lost 17 races in a row after that going into the 2006 Cal Cup, in spite of a number of close calls. His last start, though, was a disaster when he finished fifth, beaten 18 1/2 lengths, in the Berkeley Handicap (gr. III) at Golden Gate Fields Sept. 4.
Texcess bounced back in the Classic, the feature race in the full day of California-bred heats. Racing wide throughout under top weight of 118 pounds, he was within striking distance as Cheroot set comfortable fractions of :23, :46 4/5, and 1:10 2/5 for Martin Pedroza. On the far turn, Texcess moved into position on the far outside of Cheroot and King Mobay and inched closer as they reached the stretch. He got the lead a furlong out and dueled furiously with Cheroot the rest of the way, taking care of his business under strong urging from Espinoza.
"He's a big horse, and he doesn't like to be tied up in between horses," explained Espinoza, who won for the third time on the 10-race program. "He has to have a little freedom on the outside. I thought he was going to win easier that he did when we turned for home, but Martin Pedroza's horse (Cheroot) kept fighting. I had to keep after my horse. I had to make him run. I know it's been a long time since he won a race, but I was there when he won his last as a 2-year-old. Yeah, I can remember that far back. You don't forget a million-dollar race."
"The horse does try," Mitchell said. "He gets in trouble, and it's hard to get him going again. But he ran his race. Victor kept him clear on the outside.
"I'm glad Brother Derek went to the Breeders' Cup because I thought he'd be the horse to beat."
The victory was Texcess' fourth in 21 starts and pushed his earnings to $1,235,335. Saturday's win was worth $150,000 to owners Van Burger and Scott and Wayne Anastasi.
Bred by Ron E. Gomez, Texcess is out of the Regal Classic
mare Danish Alamode.
The second choice, the winner paid $9.40, $5, and $4.60. Cheroot returned $5.20 and $4.80. Iced Out, ridden by Garrett Gomez, was $8.40 to show.
King Mobay, Top This and That, Seven Nation Army, Robador, American All Star, and McNasty completed the order.
Also on Cal Cup day, 3-year-old filly River's Prayer pulled an 18-1 upset over the 3-10 choice Cambiocorsa, snapping her eight-race winning streak on Santa Anita's about 6 1/2-furlong hillside turf course in the $150,000 Cal Cup Distaff Handicap.
The pacesetting River's Prayer dropped four pounds off her last start, when she dumped rider Clinton Potts in a stakes race at Del Mar, and at 115 pounds, carried 10 less than Cambiocorsa, who tried to rally but faltered late to finish third under Jon Court.
River's Prayer, ridden again by Potts, scored a one-length victory over Tiz a Gem and Martin Garcia while registering a solid winning time of 1:12 1/5. Part-owner Paula Capestro also trains the daughter of Devon Lane, who is also owned by Bantry Farms and Martin Racing Stable LLC.
Bob Baffert won a Cal Cup race for the first time in nine years, saddling Da Stoops to a 2-length victory in the 6-furlong Sprint. Da Stoops ran the distance in 1:08.66 under Espinoza and paid $3 to win.
"It's nice to be back," said Baffert, holding his young son Bode in the winner's circle. "It took a while."
The Sprint field was decimated by the defections of defending champion Areyoutalkintome, Bordonaro, and Thor's Echo -- all of whom will enter next week's Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.
Moscow Burning's career ended on a losing note when the 6-year-old mare finished fourth as the 4-5 wagering favorite in the Distance, the day's first upset.
Special Heather won by three-quarters of a length, covering the mile on the turf under Solis in a stakes record time of 2:00.45.
It was Moscow Burning's seventh consecutive loss since her last win Feb. 25 on the same turf course. The all-time money leader for California-bred females retired with earnings of more than $1.4 million and is headed for the Keeneland sales on Nov. 6.
"She had a perfect trip," jockey Patrick Valenzuela said.
"Unfortunately, she's not what she used to be, and she's put her heart out on that track many times. She deserved to be retired."
-- Somethinaboutlaura lived up to her favorite's billing, winning the Matron by 4 1/2 lengths under Espinoza. Carrying high weight of 120 pounds, she covered 1 1-16 miles in 1:43.31 and paid $2.80 to win for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
-- Solis earned his second win of the card aboard Freesgood in the Juvenile. Freesgood covered 1 1-6 miles in 1:44.72 and paid $26.40 to win. Baffert's duo of Pirates Deputy and Turquoise N Gold finished second and third.
-- Epic Power survived a photo finish to win the Mile by a head under Corey Nakatani. The 8-1 shot paid $18.80 to win. It was Nakatani's third career win in the Mile.
-- Wind Water won the 6-furlong Starter Sprint by 1 3/4 lengths and paid $5.20 to win.
-- Phar to Win won the Starter by three-quarters of a length, covering 1 1/2 miles on the turf in 2:25.76