Johnny Eves Back On Top in Underwood
by Jack Shinar
Date Posted: 11/22/2008 7:44:29 PM
Last Updated: 11/25/2008 1:18:13 PM

Johnny Eves pulls away in the Vernon O. Underwood.
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Photo: Benoit

Johnny Eves, winless in seven starts this year since capturing the Malibu Stakes (gr. I) 11 months ago, got back to the winner's circle with a strong effort in the $108,400 Vernon O. Underwood (gr. III) (VIDEO) at Hollywood Park Nov. 22.

Ridden by Garrett Gomez, 4-year-old Johnny Eves was three wide through mid-stretch before wearing down his rivals in the final furlong to post a one-length victory. The final time for the six-furlong Cushion Track event was an excellent 1:07.90. Gomez won four races on the Hollywood card.

Northern Soldier, with Aaron Gryder aboard, won a three-horse photo for second by a nose over favored Noble Court. It was a second nose to fourth-place Wiredfortwotwenty, who put in a big front-running effort. Bob Black Jack, making his first start since the Kentucky Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) May 3, faded after battling between horses for the lead through the lane, winding up fifth in his initial try against older horses. Six Pack Abs and Master Daniel trailed.

Johnny Eves was the quickest away from the gate before settling third as Wiredfortwotwenty set a wicked pace. The pacesetter led the field of seven by up to 4 1/2 lengths down the backstretch after posting fractions of :21.52 and :44.19. But the big lead was down to a neck by the time they reached the quarter pole as Bob Black Jack and Johnny Eves, on the outside coming into the stretch, bore down. Through the lane, the closing Northern Soldier challenged the leaders on the far outside and Noble Court, with Mike Smith aboard, closed much ground at the rail.

Johnny Eves got control in deep stretch under strong urging from Gomez to win by a comfortable margin. Northern Soldier just held off the streaking Noble Court for second. 

"My main concern was that when I saw him in the paddock he was really on the muscle," said Gomez, who rode the winner to a seventh-place finish in the Bing Crosby Handicap (gr. I) at Del Mar this summer. "He's a horse who's his own worst enemy because he's overaggressive and wants to do too much early. Being on the outside my main concern was just trying to get him to shut off somewhere and listen to me just for a little ways, and he did, and it helped him get there today."

Mooncoin's California home-bred Johnny Eves was coming off a runner-up finish in Oak Tree's California Cup Sprint Handicap at Santa Anita Oct. 5 following a couple of sub-par efforts for trainer Jay Robbins.

"I've been a little disappointed," Robbins said of the 4-year-old Skimming gelding. "We gave him about 45 days off on the farm. He was sound, but he'd had a hard campaign.

"His form wasn't really good after he got back from the farm. His first two starts (at Del Mar) were not impressive. Either he needed the races or maybe he thought the 45 days were to his liking and he didn't really need to do anything."

Big things were expected from Johnny Eves after his one-length win in the Malibu. The bay turned in a huge try when stretched out to 1 1/16 miles for the San Fernando Stakes (gr. II), the second leg of the Strub series, only to finish second by a nose to the outsider Air Commander. Johnny Eves did not finish in the money in six subsequent starts prior to the Underwood.

"I think sprinting is probably his forte -- seven-eights might be the best," Robbins said. "Under the right circumstances like the San Fernando he can get two turns. I’m going to have to discuss with (owner) Sharon (Hilliard) where we’re going next. I was thinking about the On Trust Handicap or maybe the Sunshine Millions.”

Johnny Eves earned $68,400 for his sixth win in 18 starts and increased his lifetime earnings to $485,120.

Sent off as the the third choice, the winner paid $9, $4.80, and $3. Northern Soldier, who benefited from the quick pace, returned $11.80 and $5 while completing a $2 exacta worth $96.20. Grade II winner Noble Court, making his second start after a tendon injury knocked him out of competition for more than 13 months, was $2.80 to show as the 2-1 choice for trainer John Sadler.
 



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