Winless in his previous 16 starts, the 4-year-old In Excess gelding rallied to the lead on the turn for home in Saturday's $250,000 California Cup Classic at Santa Anita and dug in gamely to win by 3/4 of a length over Cheroot. Iced Out finished third.
With such superstars as Lava Man and Brother Derek prepping for next week's Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, the fields were a bit diminished for the Cal Cup Classic -- and some of the other races in the distinguished series for state-breds.
"I really believe it was time for him to win a race, now," said winning rider Victor Espinoza. "In all those races he's been running, he's always tried. But he hasn't been in the winner's circle until today.
"So I made him go. I started riding him like at the half-mile pole. He did the job. I think he's going to have tremendous confidence after this race."
Winning trainer Mike Mitchell said starting from the outside post and training over the new Cushion Track artificial surface at Hollywood Park both helped Texcess get over the hump.
Asked where Texcess might try next, Mitchell said, "I'm just so excited. I'm just going to have a good day."
Espinoza had a good day, himself, winning three races on the 10-race card, also including overwhelming favorites Somethinaboutlaura in the $150,000 Matron and Da Stoops in the $150,000 Sprint.
"It's just a great day," he said, obviously not missing the Breeders' Cup-bound competition.
Somethinaboutlaura, a 4-year-old daughter of Dance Floor, used a pace-stalking trip to set up a devastating stretch run in winning the Matron by 4 1/2 lengths over Getback Time (a great weekend hunch bet), which then was disqualified to seventh. That promoted Yearly Attitude to second and Bardy Woman to third. Somethinaboutlaura ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.31.
Da Stoops, a 3-year-old son of Distorted Humor, dueled for the lead before drawing clear to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Debonair Joe. Bonfante was third. Da Stoops ran the 6 furlongs in 1:08.66, giving trainer Bob Baffert his first Cal Cup win in nearly a decade. "It's nice to be back," the trainer said.
In other Cal Cup Races:
Epic Power pressed the pace in the $175,000 Mile, won the lead nearing the stretch and then held off Running Free to win by a head. Super Strut was just another nose back in third and Drake's Victory yet another nose behind in fourth. Epic Power, a 5-year-old gelding by Epic Honor, ran the 1 mile in firm going in 1:34.60 for jockey Corey Nakatani.
River's Prayer led virtually all the way to a 1-length victory over Tiz a Gem in the $150,000 Distaff, with Cambiocorsa third. River's Prayer, a 3-year-old daughter of Devon Lane, finished the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside course in 1:12.39 with Clinton Potts in the irons.
Special Heather sat just off the pace, then took charge in the stretch to win the $100,000 Cal Cup Distance for fillies and mares by 3/4 length over Fortunate Event, with Janzig Moon third. Special Heather, a 5-year-old daughter of Truckee, ran the 1 1/4 mile on firm turf in 2:00.45 under Alex Solis.
Freesgood came from mid-pack to upset the $125,000 Juvenile by 1 1/4 length over Pirates Deputy, with Turquoise N Gold third. Freesgood, a Free House colt, got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.72 under Alex Solis.
Romance Is Diane was always close to the lead in the $125,000 Juvenile Fillies and then took command in the lane, edging off to win by 1 1/4 length over Swiss Current. Kiss the Cooke, the pari-mutuel favorite, ran third. Romance Is Diane, a daughter of In Excess, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.86 for Patrick Valenzuela.
In other weekend racing:
Fields of Omagh came flying on the outside in the final yards to win Saturday's Cox Plate by a nose at Moonee Valley Racecourse in Australia. El Segundo was second and Pompeii Ruler finished third, just another head back. Fields of Omagh, a 9-year-old, gelded son of Rubiton, was making his fifth start in the venerable race, coming into the event after four fruitless starts earlier this season. Trainer David Hayes said the old warrior now will be retired, finishing with 12 wins, eight seconds and seven thirds for his career and earnings of more than $3 million.
Daiwa Major prevailed by 1/2 length over Swift Current in Sunday's Autumn Tenno Sho in Tokyo -- the first leg of Japan's autumn "triple crown" series for older horses. Admire Moon was third. Daiwa Major, a 5-year-old son of Sunday Silence, ran the 10 furlongs over firm going in 1:58 4/5. The victory moves Daiwa Major into serious contention for the Japan Cup next month.
Tiz Wonderful shook off a pair of rivals at the top of the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 Iroquois Stakes for 2-year-olds and went on to post a dominant, 6 3/4-lengths victory and remain undefeated in two starts. The Kentucky-bred son of Tiznow finished the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.92 under Garrett Gomez. Trainer Scott Blasi didn't sound too disappointed that his ridgling isn't entered in next week's Breeders' Cup. "I think it's going to be us being patient with him and giving him a chance to grow up that will be how he'll be able to reach his full potential," Blasi said. "The more ground, the better for him."
In Sunday's companion $100,000 Pocahontas Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, Change Up rallied wide down the stretch to catch pace-setting Mistical Plan. She then went on to win by 2 lengths over that rival, with Lady Joanne third. Change Up, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Distorted Humor, ran the 1 mile in 1:35.97, also with Gomez up. Trainer Bernie Flint said he had been hoping for the Breeders' Cup with Change Up until the filly ran a dismal seventh in the Arlington-Washington Breeders' Cup Lassie. "She's a legitimate contender," he said. "She's just got lots of talent. I think she'll make a great name for herself. Hopefully, we'll see you back here in May."
Half Heaven sent her backers to the promised land with a driving, just-in-time victory in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) River Memories Stakes for fillies and mares. Dispatched at odds of more than 42-1, the 4-year-old, New York-bred daughter of Regal Classic raced in mid-pack under Emile Ramsammy until the turn, then came between horses and won the long stretch battle by a neck over the favorite, Financingavailable. Be Envied was third. Half Heaven ran the 1 mile and 70 yards on the all-weather track in 1:43.22.
Grandy's Glory stayed close to the pace in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Fanfreluche Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, came three-wide into the turn to take the lead and ran off to win by 4 1/2 lengths over Saskawea, with Dashingalltheway third. Grandy's Glory, an Ontario-bred filly by Bold Executive, got the 6 furlongs in 1:11.47 under Steven Bahen.
Eccentric took advantage of an opening on the rail to get by early leader Ball Four and surge to the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Fayette Stakes, then held on to win by 3/4 length. Good Reward made a late run to the leaders but flattened out to finish third while the favorite, A.P. Arrow had traffic trouble turning for home and finished fourth. Eccentric, a 5-year-old, British-bred gelding by Most Welcome, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:49.16 under Eddie Castro.
Swingit swung it at the right time in Thursday's $125,000 JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. After racing last of seven early on, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Victory Gallop came around rivals on the turn and finally wore down pace-setting favorite Audacious Chloe in the final strides to win by a neck. Street Sounds finished third. Swingit, with Brian Hernandez Jr. in the irons, ran 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:43.37. Hal Wiggins trains the filly, who won for the second time in four starts. "I trained her mama (Free Ransom)," said winning trainer Hal Wiggins Jr. "She was a nice allowance winner so it kinda makes me feel a little old when I start training these offspring of these old mares."
In Friday's $125,000 Woodford Reserve Bourbon Stakes for 2-year-olds, Twilight Meteor came calling in the stretch to collar pace-setting favorite Marcavelly and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over that rival, with Admiral Bird third. Twilight Meteor is an Ontario-bred colt by Smart Strike, trained by Todd Pletcher. John Velzaquez guided the colt over 1 1/16 mile on the all-weather track in 1:43.25. "You learn to ride the Polytrack just like you would the turf," said Velazquez. He seemed to handle it perfectly. He sat right up there with the leaders like he was very comfortable and responded right away. Just basically like a turf race."
Oak Tree at Santa Anita
Beautyandthebeast got to the front in deep stretch in Sunday's $150,000 Las Palmas Handicap for fillies and mares, then held on gamely to win by a head over the late-charging Clinet. Quemar finished third. Beautyandthebeast, a 4-year-old, British-bred filly by Machiavellian, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.33 with Corey Nakatani up for trainer Neil Drysdale.
Also Sunday, Moth Ball tracked the leaders down the hillside turf course in the early stages of the $100,000 Morvich Handicap, got to the front along the rail during the stretch run and hung on to win by a neck over early leader Apalachee Tiger. Osidy finished third. Moth Ball, a 4-year-old, British-bred gelding by Royal Applause, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs downhill in 1:11.61. Michael Baze rode for trainer James Cassidy.
Ah Day took charge during the stretch drive in Saturday's $75,000 Japan Racing Association Stakes for 3-year-olds, drawing off to win by 4 lengths over Forty Crowns. Two Terms was much farther back in third. Ah Day, a Maryland-bred son of Malibu Moon, got the 1 mile on a "good" main track in 1:36.58 under Mario Pino.
Miss Goodnight stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Blue Hen Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, surged to the lead after 5 furlongs and drew off easily to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Super Natascha rallied from last of four to be second. The favorite, Glacken's Mark, finished third and My Kitty completed the order of finish. Miss Goodnight is a Virginia-bred daughter of Johannesburg. She ran the 1 1/16 mile on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:46.63 with Stewart Elliott in the irons. Miss Goodnight now has two wins from four tries.
Flamethrowintexan got the jump on five rivals in Saturday's $150,000 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap, set a measured pace and held on at the end to beat Fantastic Spain by a head. Don Incauto was third. Flamethrowintexan, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by Way West, ran the "about" 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.73 with jockey Rickey Frazier up.