Mr Napper Tandy, a 5-year-old with a fondness for running second, finally had his moment in the winner's circle when he scored by a head in the $300,000 San Francisco Mile (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) with a perfectly timed ride from jockey Julio Garcia April 25 at Golden Gate Fields.
Shipped north by trainer Jack Carava for La Canada Stables, Mr Napper Tandy ended a 10-race losing streak when he nipped pacesetter Yacht Spotter in the final jump in the turf event. He earned his first black-type victory in the San Francisco Mile, which is Northern California's only grade II race and offers the region's most lucrative purse.
Garcia waited as long as he could to call upon Mr Napper Tandy, who was last for six furlongs and charged four wide into the lane to sweep past Bold Chieftain and Yacht Spotter, who had pulled away from the rest in the homestretch. The final time on a picture perfect day at the Albany, Calif., track was 1:36.07 on firm going.
Mr Napper Tandy has shown marked improvement since Carava added blinkers to the chestnut's equipment prior to his last start. In that race, the Arcadia Handicap (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita, Mr Napper Tandy closed from near the rear of the pack but could not get to even terms with the victorious Dixie Chatter , finishing second by three-quarters of a length. That was the 11th runner-up finish from the British-bred son of Bahamian Bounty in 22 starts.
"I really wanted to try him on that turf course because of his come-from-behind style," said Carava via cell phone from Hollywood Park, where he had several horses running. "The turf course there isn't as hard as the ones here and I thought that might help him.
"I've always liked this horse even though he's a frustrating horse because of all the seconds," continued Carava. "Julio rode him well. He's a tough horse to ride."
Yacht Spotter, with Alex Bisono aboard, got exactly what he was looking for after three key scratches left him as the likely pacesetter among the nine challengers remaining. Breaking from the outside, Yacht Spotter went directly to the front and made each call while posting pedestrian splits of :24.20, :48.17, and 1:11.51.
Bold Chieftain, settled into second by Roberto Gonzalez, made a couple of runs at the leader on the backstretch and on the far turn, but Yacht Spotter sped away each time. Yacht Spotter appeared to have this one stolen when leading by nearly three lengths mid-stretch. But he began to falter ever so slightly in the final furlong as Bold Chieftain closed in for a final charge.
But on their outside, Mr Napper Tandy was moving powerfully and hit the wire in the nick of time, earning his first win since taking an optional claiming allowance event on Santa Anita's synthetic track 13 months ago.
Garcia, a 46-year-old journeyman jockey originally from Puerto Rico, said he simply followed instructions en route to earning his second victory in the SF Mile. His other win came aboard Truce Maker in 1985 for trainer Charlie Whittingham.
"They said don't hurry the horse in the beginning and wait, wait, wait before letting him run," said Garcia "My horse really responded. Past the wire I asked Alex (Bisono on Yacht Spotter) if I had won and he said, 'yeah, you got me.'"
Yacht Spotter was second by three-quarters of a length over Bold Chieftain, with the stalking Our Partner finishing fourth.
"He's all heart," said Bisono of Yacht Spotter. "He ran so hard it's a shame he got beat. He may not have the class of some horses but he tries harder than the rest of them."
Ferneley, the 13-10 favorite on the strength of a powerful allowance win over the course April 3 that earned a national-best 106 turf Beyer Speed Figure this year, was never a factor and finished sixth.
"They pushed him down inside going into the first turn," jockey Russell Baze said of the favorite. "I was never able to get him out but I don't know if it would have made any difference because he didn't really respond when I asked him. He didn't show the acceleration he had in his last race."
Mr Napper Tandy picked up his fourth lifetime win and boosted his earnings to $434,819 after collecting $180,000 for the victory. Though this was his first stakes win, Mr Napper Tandy has had six prior stakes placings (three graded) in the U.S., one in England and one in Ireland. In all but one of those races, he ran second.
Mrs. N.F.M. Sampson bred the winner, who is out of the Inchinor mare Starfleet.
Sent off as the co-third choice, Mr Napper Tandy paid $15.20, $7.60, and $5.40, topping a $2 exacta worth $187.80. The lightly regarded Yacht Spotter, trained by Frank Lucarelli, returned $8.60 and $7.60. Bold Chieftain, who could have gone over the $1 million mark in career earnings with a victory, was $5 to show.
It was two lengths to Our Partner in fourth, followed by Siren Lure, Ferneley, Sky Cape, Mr. Wolverine, and Autism Awareness. All carried 122 pounds.
Liberian Freighter, Storm Military and Silent Soul, all of whom could have been expected to press the pace, were scratched.
The San Francisco Mile was returned to the Golden Gate line-up this season after a one-year hiatus due to scheduling changes made by the California Horse Racing Board in 2008 to accommodate Bay Meadows.