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HOLLYWOOD PARK

Sweet Return Keeps Head Up

June 12, 2005|Bob Mieszerski | Times Staff Writer

A return to Hollywood Park, a stretch to 1 1/4 miles and a lonely lead was all Sweet Return needed to end an eight-race losing streak.

Able to slow things down to a virtual crawl in the $350,000 Charlie Whittingham Memorial Handicap on Saturday, the 5-year-old Elmaamul horse had enough left to beat favored Red Fort by a head in the Grade I.

Owned by Red Oak Stable and trained by Ron McAnally, Sweet Return, the 4-1 third choice in the field of nine, made the front and got away with 26.08, 50.62 and 1:14.31 fractions en route to winning in 2:01.35 under jockey Alex Solis.

The Whittingham was reminiscent of Sweet Return's only other win in Inglewood. He made the lead in the 2003 Hollywood Park Derby, went even slower for the half-mile (51 seconds) and six furlongs (1:17 2/5 ) and won by a half-length at 16-1 under Julie Krone.

"The only instructions I gave Alex was to keep him relaxed," McAnally said. "He figured the race the same as I did. The only other horse who we thought might have speed was [Deputy Lad, who finished fourth at 35-1]. As it turned out, when I saw the half in 50, I thought we were in the right spot. [Red Fort] got up there head to head, but our horse came back on again. He's a fighter like that."

This was the sixth win in 25 starts for Sweet Return, whose last victory before Saturday had come in the Jimmy Kilroe Mile on March 6, 2004, at Santa Anita.

"The other horse got his head in front, but this one is such a warrior he was pulling away at the finish," Solis said.

It was the second consecutive tough loss for Red Fort, who had lost by a nose to stablemate King Of Happiness in the Inglewood Handicap on April 30. Rider Corey Nakatani bemoaned the lack of pace to challenge the winner.

"He got a walking lead," Nakatani said. "I was hoping [Deputy Lad] would go and put his horse on the lead. He runs best on the lead, but [jockey] Tyler [Baze] never put him there.

"The leader was just galloping. I was finally able to get to him and I did get by for a moment, but to make up that kind of ground off of that pace, well, my horse was laying his body down. The other horse just got everything his own way."

Vangelis, the 3-1 second choice, finished 3 1/2 lengths behind Red Fort in third, then came Deputy Lad, Stanley Park, Sarafan, Just Wonder, Continuously and Pellegrino.

*

Fusaichi Samurai, the $4.5-million purchase who was made the future book favorite for the Kentucky Derby in some places after he broke his maiden Dec. 11, finished last in his first race as a 3-year-old.

The 9-10 favorite in the seventh, a $49,000 allowance, the Fusaichi Pegasus colt never threatened under Victor Espinoza.

"He's been off for such a long time, and he felt like he wasn't getting ahold of the track very well this time," said Espinoza, who rode Fusaichi Samurai for owner Fusao Sekiguchi and trainer Neil Drysdale. "I still think he's a special horse, but it's kind of hard to say right now. We'll see with a different track condition and a little more distance."

*

McCann's Mojave, making his first start for trainer Pat Gallagher, won the $91,350 Ack Ack Handicap, outdueling favored Congrats to win for the sixth time in 11 starts.

Co-owned by breeders Alix Nikki Hunt and local intertrack and radio host Mike Willman, the 5-year-old Memo horse ran the 7 1/2 furlongs in 1:27.23. Ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., McCann's Mojave, who won by 1 1/2 lengths, returned $19.60 in his first start at Hollywood Park.

*

Is It True Mex, a turf sprinter who had won 17 races, had to be euthanized at Hollywood Park after breaking down in the fourth race. A winner of only three of 28 starts on dirt, the 9-year-old blossomed when switched to the grass. He finished with 14 wins on the surface and earnings of $386,495.

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