Owned by Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables and ridden to victory by Victor Espinoza, the 6-year-old War Chant horse registered by a half length over runner-up Heroi Do Bafra, who finished strongly from a deep stalking position but could not get to the winner. It was three-quarters of a length to the third-place finisher, Uffizi. The final clocking for the 1 1/16-mile event on firm going was a solid 1:40.35.
In an injury plagued career, El Roblar has had two surgeries to remove bone chips, the most recent coming after winning the Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III) on Hollywood's Cushion Track last June. In his only start since, the dark bay tuned up with a closing third-place showing in the 6 1/2-furlong Potrero Grande Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita one month ago.
“It was a tough race, but this horse has a big heart," said Angel Vega, Mandella's assistant. "He’s doing really well right now and he ran good. He’s been training super good in the mornings and I expected him to run a big race."
El Roblar chased the pacesetter Ghosttrapper, who opened up a 10-length advantage on the backstretch, and Get Funky while racing in third along the inside. Opening fractions for the first half mile were :23.27 and :46.11 before Get Funky, El Roblar and Heroi Do Bafra began to close in after six furlongs were run in 1:10.19. In upper stretch, El Roblar swept up to the pacesetter and Get Funky on the outside and gradually edged away as the Brazilian-bred Heroi Do Bafra, ridden by Aaron Gryder, took aim. But El Roblar refused to give in through the lane and maintained a half-length edge in the final furlong.
"I really wasn't worried about the horse in front because I knew he was going fast," Espinoza said. "I was just focusing more on my horse. I wanted him to be comfortable and let him run the way he wants to. Turning for home, I didn't have to do much ... just the last sixteenth I had to get into him a little bit to keep going."
The field was softened by the scratches of Storm Military and Rather Be Lucky, reducing the field to seven.
Sent off as the 8-5 choice, El Roblar improved his record to 6-1-3 in 14 starts with earnings of $389,646. He carried 118 pounds and paid $5.20, $3.40 and $2.60.
Heroi Do Bafra, now second in five of eight U.S. starts for trainer Bobby Frankel without a win since transferring from Brazil to begin the 2007 season, returned $7.80 and $4.40.
"He came up to El Roblar but (El Roblar) had a little left," Gryder said. "My horse ran a great race down the lane."
Uffizi, with Brice Blanc aboard, was $3.60 to show.
Get Funky, who finished fourth in last year's Inglewood, found his spot once again while toting top weight of 119 pounds. Hello Sunday, Mr Napper Tandy and Ghosttrapper trailed.
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