Archarcharch raced his way into Kentucky Derby contention with a late rally that boosted him to victory in Monday's Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
The Kentucky-bred son of Arch, with Jon Court up, broke free from a tightly packed bunch entering the stretch, drew to a daylight lead and held off favorite J P's Gusto by 1 length, despite drifting in slightly in the final yards.
Elite Alex came from last of 11 to finish third in the $250,000, Grade III event.
After a quick early pace, the final time for 1 mile over a fast track was 1:38.23, indicating none of the horses was flying down the lane.
The victory was a breakthrough for Archarcharch. His only previous win came in the 6-furlong Sugar Bowl at Fair Grounds Dec. 16. A month ago, he finished a distant fourth as the favorite in the 1 mile Smarty Jones over the Oaklawn oval. The track, however, was wet that day.
"With all of the weather and the way the track came up last time, we knew he was going into this race a lot better," said winning trainer Jinks Fires. "He came back from that last race with a little filling in his hock. It was a really tough track that day, but we had to go. Stakes don't come around every day, and when they do we just had to take it."
Fires said he was concerned Archarcharch broke slowly and endured some bumping on the first turn.
"I felt good," he added, "when I saw Jon move up outside because he was able to overcome all that. He's a pretty agile horse."
J P's Gusto, running for the first time for trainer Joe Petalino, also answered some questions. He had run well on California's artificial surfaces but came home a well-beaten sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall in his only try on a real dirt surface. Monday, he was boxed behind the leaders much of the way, then was gaining on the winner before being checked slightly at the end.
"At the quarter pole, when I wanted to move, there were horses around me and I couldn't get out," said J P's Gusto's rider, Ramon Dominguez. "When the winner started moving up super early I could have gotten out, but I thought I didn't want to have to make my move so soon. I figured I'd take my chances."
Elite Alex was making just his third career start and his first in a stakes race. The Afleet Alex colt will bear watching. Jockey Calvin Borel said he, too, had traffic problems at a critical juncture at the top of the stretch.
In other Presidents' Day racing:
No Advantage rallied around the leaders heading for home in the $150,000, Grade II General George Handicap, got the advantage at mid-stretch and held off Laysh Laysh Laysh to win by a neck. Heritage Hall finished third. No Advantage, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Posse, got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.46 with Manuel Chaves up. "We worked really hard on this one," said winning trainer Stephanie Beatty. "He just keeps going. We give him breaks here and there, like we did lay him off for four months (last year) to give him a little freshener. That did a lot for him." She said now her goal is to have No Advantage ready for the $1 million Charles Town Classic April 16.
Cozi Rosie came four-wide into the stretch in the $150,000, Grade II Buena Vista Handicap, got by pacesetting Briecat and came home first by 1 1/4 lengths. Briecat held second by a nose over Malibu Pier. Cozi Rosie, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Pleasantly Perfect filly, ran the 1 mile on "good" turf in 1:35.94 with Mike Smith aboard. Evening Jewel was a late scratch. Cozi Rosie had not raced since losing by a head to Evening Jewel in the Grade II Honeymoon Stakes at Hollywood Park May 31.
"We were happy to see the speed in this race because she wants to come off the pace," said winning trainer John Sadler. "That's when she really got good last year, when she relaxed in the end and closed good. It was a perfect ride. Mike Smith just let her settle and stayed off the speed."
Cambina rallied from last of 11 to win the $100,000, Grade III La Habra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies down the hillside turf course. With Garrett Gomez in the irons, the Irish-bred Hawk Wing filly came outside as the field crossed the dirt track, then responded to urging and got up to win by a nose over Quiet Oasis. Cathy's Crunches finished third. Cambina ran the "about" 6 1/2 gravity-assisted furlongs in 1:13.75. "She's small," Gomez said of Cambina. "But she's got a lot of heart and she's got a heck of a turn of foot. I thought we were going to win easy, but that filly inside of us (Quiet Oasis) kept fighting back. I thought I got the bob, but she's so small, and when they're so far apart, it's really tough to tell who got to the wire first."
Be Bullish took charge in the stretch run of the $65,000 Hollie Hughes Stakes for New York-breds, drawing off to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Smokin Hero. Heavenly Blaze finished third. Be Bullish, a 6-year-old Pure Prize gelding, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast inner track in 1:11.62. Winning rider Junior Alvarado said trainer Rick Dutrow "told me to wait and find the nicest spot. And that was exactly what I did. When I asked him, he responded right away and just took off. When I asked him, he was real strong."