Beginning with the scratch of champion Acclamation, the $98,000 Inglewood Handicap (gr. IIIT) went perfectly for Utopian, who got up in the final couple of strides to win by a head April 27 at Betfair Hollywood Park (VIDEO).
Utopian, owned by Jerry and Ann Moss and trained by John Shirreffs, earned his first stakes win while defeating three rivals in the 1 1/8-mile grass test in a slow 1:48.73 over firm ground. The race was the feature event of the the first Friday night program of the Hollywood Park spring/summer meet.
Acclamation, who won the Eclipse Award in 2011 as outstanding older male, would have been an overwhelming favorite in his first start since last October. But trainer Don Warren opted to scratch his star when he suspected something was amiss following a morning gallop a day before the Inglewood.
With Mike Smith aboard, Utopian sat a perfect trip just off the pacesetter Smug and engaged his rival in a stiff battle through the length of the stretch. Racing on the outside of Smug, Utopian got a slight advantage in the closing strides and emerged with a hard-fought victory.
A 5-year-old son of Rock Hard Ten out of the Storm Cat mare Storm Alert, Utopian was bred in Kentucky by G. Watts Humphrey Jr. and Louise Humphrey.
Smug, ridden by Joel Rosario, showed the way over Utopian while carving modest fractions of :25.75, :50.23, and 1:14.26. Holladay Road, the 3-5 favorite in the tiny field, stalked the pace for Rafael Bejarano with Haimish Hy and Joe Talamo to his inside.
Utopian advanced to challenge leaving the far turn and commenced a long stretch duel that would not be decided until just before the wire. Smug held for second by 1 1/2 lengths over Holladay Road, whose late kick was blunted by the slow pace. Haimish Hy, who has not won since taking the 2010 Hollywood Derby (gr. IT), was 4 1/2 lengths farther back.
Smith said Utopian displayed a "tremendous amount of heart and getting better. Every race, he's improving."
Utopian was shortening up in the Inglewood after running fourth in the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey Stakes (gr. IIT) on the Santa Anita Park turf March 25. He was second, beaten by a head by Slim Shadey, in the 10-furlong San Marco Stakes (gr. IIT) in February.
The lightly raced dark bay or brown horse won for the third time in 11 tries while boosting his earnings to $183,180.
Sent off as the 2-1 second choice, Utopian carried 117 pounds and paid $6.80 and $5.40. Smug returned $6 in his stakes debut for trainer Neil Drysdale. The exacta was worth $23.80. There was no show wagering.