The Cougar II, at 12 furlongs, was designated as part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge series guaranteeing the winner a place in the $500,000 event at the same distance Oct. 25.
Zappa, trained by John Sadler for owners Gary and Cecil Barber, visited the winner's circle for the first time since capturing the San Pasqual Handicap (gr. IIT) over Santa Anita's synthetic racing surface Jan. 12. He had lost five in a row.
Ridden for the first time by Garrett Gomez, Zappa took control after an opening half-mile in :50.45 and he led by about four lengths over Harlene after reaching the race's mid-point in 1:16.17. With Harlene still trying to make a race of it and 7-10 favorite Big Booster lagging at the back of the field on the final turn, Zappa shook loose again to lead by seven lengths after a mile. Tissy Fit, passing the tiring Harlene, ran on to cut the lead to five lengths in the home stretch. But Zappa, running gamely under urging from Gomez, was never threatened and came home 6 1/4 lengths in front in a final time of 2:30.53.
Gomez said it was easy as it looked.
"When we got over on the backside at the five-eighths, I eased him out a bit and let him do some running," the jockey said. "Then when we hit the half-mile, it was like we were breaking off for a half-mile work. I got into him and he went. Then when I put the squeeze on him in the lane for all he had, he gave it to me and we were gone. Great trip; he did it right."
This was the first time that the 1 1/2-mile distance was run on Del Mar's synthetic racing surface.
Tissy Fit, also owned by the Barbers and trained by Sadler, held second under Tyler Baze by 1 3/4 lengths. Big Booster, who needed a realistic pace, launched a wide belated bid to finish third for jockey Rafael Bejarano.
"It didn't look like there was a lot of speed in this race, so we thought the strategy for Zappa was to put him closer today than he's been in some of his other races," Sadler said. "Big Booster only has one way to go, that's to come from dead last. We just literally tried to steal it and Garrett did a beautiful job of it."
A 6-year-old Afternoon Deelites gelding out of the Theatrical mare Julie's Angel, Zappa was bred in Kentucky by Madeleine Paulson and Ernest Moody. The bay earned his 12th win in 33 starts and boosted his earnings to $449,032.
Sent off as the second choice in the field of seven, Zappa paid $9.80, $4.80 and $3. Tissy Fit, racing uncoupled, returned $5.40 and $2.40, capping a $2 exacta worth $45.60. The late-running Big Booster, who won the 1 5/8-mile Gallant Man Handicap over Hollywood Park's Cushion Track June 1, was $2.10 to show.
Marsh Side finished fourth.
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