The $287,500 Sunset Handicap had become the forgotten stake on the Fourth of July weekend at Hollywood Park.
Despite the Sunset's reputation as a major race, more attention was being paid this year to today's Silver Screen Handicap, with Preakness winner Snow Chief running, and to speculation about whether Melair, the undefeated filly, would run against Snow Chief or start instead in Sunday's Hollywood Oaks. That speculation ended Friday night when the owners of Melair decided to tackle Snow Chief.
One trainer who didn't forget the Sunset, however, was John Gosden. The 35-year-old transplanted Englishman hasn't forgotten many races at Hollywood this season, and in the Sunset, Gosden got his eighth stakes win of the meeting, due to a skillful ride by Eddie Delahoussaye, who guided Zoffany to a 3/4-length victory over Dahar before 35,294, Hollywood's smallest Fourth of July crowd since 1977.
The Sunset was 1 1/2 miles on turf, but as far as Gosden was concerned, the issue was decided at the half-mile pole.
"That's when Eddie got through a gap and forced Dahar wide at the same time," Gosden said. "Eddie gave the horse a beautiful ride."
Zoffany, a rare New Jersey-bred who can win stakes in open company, earned $161,500, making his career total $928,795 for his owners, Englishmen Anthony and John Bodie and Anthony Speelman, who bought him for $80,000 at a Kentucky yearling sale.
Paying $5, $2.80 and $2.40 as the second betting choice behind Dahar, Zoffany was timed in 2:24 2/5. Dahar, who went off the 13-10 favorite, paid $2.80 and $2.40, and it was 1 3/4 lengths farther back to Flying Pidgeon, who paid $3 to show.
Before the Sunset, Gosden and Charlie Whittingham, a trainer who has dominated the race for the last 13 years, were fretting about the lack of early speed in the eight-horse field. Whittingham, who once saddled the Sunset winner six straight times, a streak that ended in 1983, was seeking his 10th victory in the stake but settled for second with Dahar and seventh with Rivlia.
"Whoever goes to the lead, it'll be the first time he's ever done it," said Gosden, eyeballing his Daily Racing Form just minutes before post time. "I think it will have to be Lord Grundy, mainly because there's nobody else."
It was, indeed, Lord Grundy, but the 47-1 shot started falling back early, and Rivlia took over.
Zoffany was waiting in the middle of the pack, but he had room because Delahoussaye had listened carefully to Gosden's pre-race instructions.
"I told Eddie that the No. 1 post gave us a great edge in a mile-and-a-half race," Gosden said. "But I reminded him to get off the rail eventually. Even if we lost ground, I told him to get outside."
On the final turn, Zoffany started moving. "Dahar was waiting for me on the outside," Delahoussaye said. "I didn't want him to move too soon. I wanted him to think he had me. I hardly had to hit my horse; all I had to do was show him the whip. I had a lot of horse left for the stretch."
Alex Solis, who had won consecutive races earlier on the program, ending his personal losing streak at 63, was seeking his third straight stakes win with Dahar.
Both Solis and Whittingham noted that Dahar was giving three pounds to Zoffany, 125 to 122.
"Not only that," Whittingham said, "my horse got fanned out on the turn for home. Everything considered, that might have meant a length or two."
The 6-year-old Zoffany has won 13 of 29 starts, all on turf, and his last four stakes wins, two this season and two last winter, have been at Hollywood Park.
Zoffany was named by Speelman, an art dealer who has long loved the work of Johann Zoffany, an 18th Century painter of portraits and landscapes.
In the winner's circle, Speelman said that he currently doesn't own anything by the painter. But Zoffany the runner also makes a pretty picture, especially when he sets foot on the grass at Hollywood Park.
Horse Racing Notes