The 8-year-old horse McCann's Mojave bled in last year's Berkeley, when he struggled home last of eight as the 13-10 choice.
But the Steve Specht trainee was the picture of fitness going to the gate this time and he had a nice set-up when Desert Code and Our Partner slugged it out for the lead on the Tapeta Footings surface.
McCann's Mojave, ridden by regular pilot Frank Alvarado, also had the advantage over his rivals at Golden Gate, where he has now won three of five tries on the main track with one second.
"We plan to run in a few spots and retire him in the spring," said Specht. "I'm not sure where his next start will be. If he happened to reel off a few wins, the (Sunshine Millions in January 2009) would look pretty good and he could be a stud later. He just has a beautiful stride and loves this racetrack."
The Southern California shipper Desert Code, ridden by Richard Migliore at odds of 8-5, took turns swapping the lead with Our Partner and Russell Baze in an odd pace duel fought through fractions of :24.04, :47.25, and 1:10.98. McCann's Mojave settled a few lengths behind the leader while racing off the rail and cruised up effortlessly on the outside to challenge on the final turn. Meanwhile, Our Partner was finished on the inside and slowly fell back as Desert Code and McCann's Mojave engaged.
In upper stretch, McCann's Mojave poked his head in front and he proved much the best down the lane, leading by two lengths at the furlong marker and coming home in 1:43.06 for the 1 1/16-mile test. The time was one second off the Tapeta Footings track mark.
"That was so sweet -- just the way we planned it this morning," said Alvarado. "We didn't know if Jerry (Hollendorfer, trainer of Our Partner) would send his horse, but he did. At the three-eighths pole I was thinking, 'I'm looking so good right now.' He moved so easy I didn't ask him until the three-sixteenths."
Desert Code, who never appeared comfortable, held second by a half-length over Pass the Heat and jockey Kyle Kaenel, who finished third. Stewards reviewed a bumping incident at the sixteenth pole between Desert Code and Pass the Heat, but made no change in the order of finish.
Migliore said he has a lot of respect for McCann's Mojave.
"Hats off to the winner, he was the best horse today," he said. "I know McCann's Mojave and he's a nice horse. When I looked at his works I knew he was primed for this race. He ran a big race, and my horse ran well, too."
McCann's Mojave, a California-bred son of Memo--Joni U Bar, by Nordic Prince, is owned by Santa Anita publicity director Mike Willman, who also bred the bay along with Alix Nikki Hunt. McCann's Mojave was coming off a fifth-place finish in The Sensational Star on Santa Anita's hillside turf course April 4.
His last victory was at Golden Gate in last fall's 1 1/8-mile All-American (gr. III), and he had lost four races in a row since. The hard-trying veteran has won 12 of 34 starts in his career with earnings of $1,468,565 after collecting the Berkeley's winning cut of $90,000. Much of that total came from his victory in the $1-million Sunshine Millions Classic in 2007.
Sent off as the second choice in the Berkeley's field of six, McCann's Mojave paid $8.20, $3.40, and $2.40. Desert Code, who was favored off his second-place finish in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood Park a month ago for trainer David Hofmans, returned $2.60 and $2.10 while rounding out an $18.40 exacta. Pass the Heat, making his graded stakes debut for William Morey Jr., was $3.40 to show.
The Argentina-bred Magnum finished fourth, with Our Partner and Marsh Side trailing. Hello Sunday scratched. All runners carried 123 pounds.
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