With a long sustained drive, the 30-1 shot Autism Awareness surged past Bold Chieftain at the wire to win the $150,000 Berkeley Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO) by a head on Memorial Day at Golden Gate Fields May 25.
The 4-year-old Autism Awareness, who is owned by Johnny Taboada, won his first stakes since his 62-1 shocker in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Bay Meadows in March 2008. Bringing just $1,000 as a yearling, the California-bred son of Tannersmyman was ridden to victory by David Lopez for trainer Genaro Vallejo in a time of 1:43.17 for 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic Tapeta racing surface.
It was an emotional group in the winner's circle that surrounded Taboada, whose son, Renzo, has autism. The owner has dedicated his life to fighting the illness.
"Odds don't mean anything to us," said Taboada, whose son, Renzo, has autism. "There's nothing like winning the El Camino Real Derby, but this is very close. A lot of people around the nation have paid attention to this horse, but they've kind of lost interest. I think they'll be noticing him again."
Our Partner carved out slow early fractions of :24.92 and :49.12 before Unusual Smoke pushed forward on the turn to lead through six furlongs in 1:12.46. Bold Chieftain, always close to the pace while stalking on the outside, got the advantage in mid-stretch and looked best heading toward the wire. But Autism Awareness, never far back under Lopez, dug in late and got up in the final couple of strides.
"I rode him once before, as a 2-year-old at Santa Rosa, and I knew he was a good horse," said Lopez. "Genaro told me to sit back and let the speed go. I had a perfect trip, in the clear on the outside. He wanted to go leaving the backstretch but I waited because I knew I had a lot of horse and there were good horses behind me."
Awesome Gem, the 8-5 favorite, loomed into contention late and rallied wide to get third, a head behind Bold Chieftain. Fourth-place finisher Medzendeekron was just a nose farther back in a blanket finish.
Silent Soul, Unusual Suspect, Captain Roy, Unusual Smoke, and Our Partner followed. Sierra Sunset, expected to make his first start since winning last year's Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn, was scratched.
Autism Awareness threw in a clunker in his last start, finishing last of nine in the San Francisco Mile (gr. IIT) in his turf debut April 25. Returned to the synthetic surface by Vallejo, he found the form that saw him score in a one-mile optional claiming allowance heat at Golden Gate a month earlier. The Berkeley win, his fourth in 22 starts, was worth $90,000 and boosted the dark bay colt's earnings to $281,745.
Bred by Jim Eaton, Paul Arndt, Dave Marabela, and Mr. and Mrs. Terry Smith, Autism Awareness is out of the Sharp Victor mare Lady Essex and sold for $1,000 as a yearling at the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association's Northern California yearling sale in September 2006.
He paid $62.80, $20.20, and $9.80 and topped a $2 exacta worth $224.60. Bold Chieftain, a close second choice after a third-place showing in the San Francisco Mile, returned $5.20 and $3.40. Awesome Gem, often close but now winless in 13 consecutive starts, was $2.60 to show.
Frank Alvarado, who rode Bold Chieftain, and Alex Solis, who piloted Awesome Gem, both were a bit frustrated after the Berkeley.
"He tried hard but he wasn't focused today," said Alvarado of the 6-year-old horse Bold Chieftain, who earned $30,000 for his runner-up finish and has made $906,411 in 27 career starts. "From the three-sixteenths pole to the wire he wasn't focused on the job."
"He tried hard," said Solis of Awesome Gem, a 6-year-old gelding who has earned more than $1.2 million but has only won four times in 24 lifetime starts."He's a little tricky to ride. I would have liked to make my move inside but I couldn't get there."