Aggie Engineer turned a soft early lead into the first graded stakes win of his career when he bounded away leaving the final turn to win the $100,000 Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO) by 1 3/4 lengths at Hollywood Park Dec. 4.
Ridden by Joe Talamo, Aggie Engineer easily held off closers Spurrier and Soul Candy through the final furlong. Favored Dakota Phone, winner of the Breeder's Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) at Churchill Downs one month ago, faded to fourth as the 8-5 favorite.
Paddy Gallagher trains Aggie Engineer for owners Roberta and Ward Williford, who also bred the 5-year-old gelding by E Dubai —Papalma, by Dixieland Band, in Kentucky.
Aggie Engineer completed the 1 1/8-mile test in a slow Cushion Track time of 1:51.04.
Talamo sent Aggie Engineer to the front and slowed the pace to a crawl (:25.55, :50.52 and 1:15.49) as Philatelist, angled off the rail by Garrett Gomez, and Achak tracked in second and third. By the time they reached the quarter pole, Philatelist was in deep water and Achak and Dakota Phone were under pressure to keep up.
Aggie Engineer cut the final turn beautifully, opening up a commanding lead in upper stretch and had plenty left for the drive. Talamo urged him at the eighth pole, when Aggie Engineer was three lengths in front of Achak and Dakota Phone, and rode him steadily to the wire while never seriously challenged.
“He had a magnificent trip,’’ said Talamo. “Obviously on paper he was the speed of the race. He’s such a great horse to ride, and I tried to be a good pilot. I just let him do his own thing.
“He was just cruising around there and when I asked him to go he did. Usually when there’s no speed, somebody always goes. Fortunately it worked out well today. He got the job done real nice. It was fun.’’
Spurrier, shuffled back when forced wide on the clubhouse turn, rallied in the lane for Victor Espinoza to finish second by a half-length while drifting inward late. Soul Candy, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, was along in time to edge Dakota Phone by a half-length for third.
Aggie Engineer and Talamo were coming off a 2 1/4-length win over optional claiming allowance rivals in an-off-the-turf test at 1 1/16 miles during Hollywood's Oak Tree meet Oct. 22. The chestnut and Talamo have made a good team this year, combining for two wins, two seconds and a third in five races together. Their previous best in a stakes was a runner-up effort in Del Mar's Wickerr in July.
The consistent Aggie Engineer improved his overall mark to 6-4-2 in 16 starts with earnings of $268,280.
The second-choice in the field of seven, Aggie Engineer carried 116 pounds and paid $8, $4.60 and $3.20. Spurrier, attempting to give trainer Bob Baffert his 2,000th career win, returned $8.20 and $5.20, rounding out a $58 exacta. California Cup Classic winner Soul Candy, also trained by Gallagher, was $3.40 to show.
Dakota Phone, the 123-pound highweight, was the benificiary of a torrid pace when he posted his 37-1 shocker in the BC Dirt Mile Nov. 6. He got nothing close to that this time.
“They were going too slow for him," said jockey Joel Rosario."With a slow pace like that, they continue to keep running on the lead."
Dakota Phone was followed by Achak, Romp and Philatelist.