By winning the $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash Saturday at Laurel Park in the final start of his career, Delaware Township all but clinched an Eclipse award for Squirtle Squirt.
The Breeders' Cup Sprint winner was not in Maryland, but some observers felt a victory by either Xtra Heat or Kona Gold might have swung voters toward them in the race for champion sprinter.
A 5-year-old son of Notebook, Delaware Township ended any chances those two had with his authoritative win in the Grade I.
Taking advantage of a fast pace, the 3-1 fourth choice rallied on the outside under Jerry Bailey for his fourth win in nine starts in 2001. In beating 7-1 shot Early Flyer by three lengths, he completed the six furlongs in 1:09 for owner New Farm and trainer Ben Perkins Jr.
Sixth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint three weeks earlier at Belmont Park, Delaware Township finishes with 11 wins in 21 starts and earnings of $996,950.
Unbeaten in four previous starts at Laurel, Xtra Heat, second in the Breeders' Cup, set a 212/5, 441/5 and 562/5 pace while pressured by Caller One. The 5-2 second choice, Xtra Heat faded to third, three-quarters of a length behind Early Flyer, who was making his first start since beating Squirtle Squirt in the Laz Barrera on May 28 at Hollywood Park, and a neck in front of 2-1 favorite Kona Gold. Say Florida Sandy, Caller One and the overmatched Boots On Sunday completed the order of finish.
"We kind of feel vindicated after the Breeders' Cup," said Perkins. "He's always run well in smaller fields because of his style. He has been pretty solid for us."
The last time trainer Dave La Croix had won a stakes race at Hollywood Park was 1982, when Unpredictable captured the Vernon O. Underwood.
Heading into Saturday's $100,000 Hollywood Prevue, in which he saddled Fonz's, La Croix did not think the streak was about to end.
"I missed that race up north [the San Mateo on Nov. 3 at Bay Meadows] and I thought he would really need this one," he said.
Making his first start since a loss by a neck in the Willard Proctor Memorial on May 26, Fonz's, a 6-1 shot, was more than ready. Giving Laffit Pincay his first win in the Prevue, the 2-year-old Out Of Place gelding wore down 9-1 outsider Popular nearing the wire to win by half a length in 1:22 for the seven furlongs.
Owned by La Croix's Meadowbrook Farm and Gene Anderson, Fonz's has won two of three. His next start probably will be in the $200,000 Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 15.
"He had sore shins, then he had some other minor things," said La Croix, explaining Fonz's absence since the spring. "He's a nice colt. I had him sold last summer, but he didn't pass the vet [examination], knock on wood, or I probably wouldn't have him right now.
"I'll probably get some more offers, but I think I'm going to try to keep this one. I like winning a race other than a $32,000 maiden claimer."
The victory by Fonz's means Pincay could be facing a choice in the Futurity. He is also the regular rider for Yougottawanna, the conqueror of Officer in last month's California Cup Juvenile, who is also being pointed for the Grade I.
"It's a nice position to be in," Pincay said. "I might have to make a choice. We'll see what happens.
"This is a nice horse. He can run. In the stretch, he fought and got the job done."
Popular finished 31/2 lengths clear of Labamta Babe, then came Dial A Hero, 2-1 second choice Heavyweight Champ, 7-5 favorite Roman Dancer and Royal Moro.
Impressive in winning the Sunny Slope a month ago at Santa Anita, Roman Dancer was close early but was all done before the field hit the stretch. He finished nine lengths behind the winner.
There is a pick six carryover today at Hollywood Park of more than $130,000.... Mr. Pleasentfar, a 9-1 shot, rallied past favored Eltawaasul in the final yards to win the $150,000 Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct in New York. Mr. Pleasentfar, a 4-year-old bred in Brazil, completed the 13/8 miles on the turf in 2:164/5 in winning by three-quarters of a length with jockey Jose Santos.