INGLEWOOD, Calif. (May 5, 2012)—A lengthy layoff proved no obstacle for Morning Line as the 5-year-old led throughout in the $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (video) Saturday at Betfair Hollywood Park.
Even before the win by the 5-1 shot in the Grade II, a Pick Six carryover was assured.
When racing resumes Sunday, there will be $58,358 awaiting players.
Post time Sunday is 1 p.m. The Pick Six will start in the fourth race, which has a scheduled post time of 2:35 p.m.
Away since finishing last in the Grade I Whitney Handicap last Aug. 6 at Saratoga, Morning Line, despite some pre-race antics, was more than fit enough in his first start for trainer John Shirreffs, holding off 8-1 outsider Prayer for Relief in the final yards.
The victory was the second stakes win of the day for jockey Joe Talamo, who had missed his first three mounts Saturday after having some connection issues when flying home from Kentucky after riding at Churchill Downs Friday.
About three races earlier, Talamo, who captured his first LeRoy with Ball Four in 2009, had used the same front running tactics to take the $72,400 Cool Frenchy Stakes with Flightofalifetime.
Owned by a partnership that includes William Farish, Dixiana Stables and Thoroughbred Legends Stable, Morning Line had never raced over a synthetic surface prior to Saturday, but he had trained well over Cushion Track before his fifth lifetime win.
Completing the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42 2/5, Morning Line pushed his earnings to $1,212,300.
A 5-year-old son of Tiznow and the A.P. Indy mare Indiana Snow, the dark bay, who was bred in Kentucky by Dell Ridge Farm LLC, paid $13.20, $7 and $3.80.
Prayer for Relief, who had won two of his previous three starts over Cushion Track, returned $8.60 and $5 while finishing a half-length behind the winner. Kettle Corn, 3 ¾ lengths back in third, paid $4 to show.
Completing the order of finish were Thirtyfirststreet, Gladding, Jaycito, Awesome Gem, the 5-2 favorite, Great Warrior and Honour the Deputy. The latter originally finished fifth, but was disqualified and placed last for interference in the stretch.
The victory was Morning Line’s third in a graded stakes in as many years. He won the Grade II Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park – now Parx – in 2010 and the Grade I Carter Handicap April 9, 2011 at Aqueduct. Those wins came when he was in the stable of Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito.
“I’m just so happy they (the gate crew) were so patient with him,’’ said Shirreffs. “They did a great job getting him back to the gate.
“When I saw Joe just getting a little higher on him going to the three-eighths, you could see he was taking a good breather just then. You can see from his past races that when horses come to him, he really fights. He’s very classy horse.’’
Shirreffs added he hopes to bring Morning Line back in the Grade II, $150,000 Californian June 2 and the Grade I, $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup July 7.Bobina was an extremely game winner in her stakes debut, edging 10-1 outsider My Gi Gi by a nose in the $100,000 Senorita.
Unfortunately, the 3-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon and the Dynaformer Maliziosa went wrong immediately after the finish and had to be euthanized. Owned by breeder Haras Santa Maria de Aras, Inc. and trained by A.C. Avila, Bobina suffered what was called a “catastrophic injury’’ to her right front fetlock.
Victor Espinoza, who rode the 3-1 second choice for the first time in the Grade III, escaped serious injury. Espinoza, recently returned from a broken left hand suffered March 23 at Santa Anita, skipped his next two mounts – Excessive Passion, who finished last in the $72,400 Cool Frenchy Stakes and Fable Haven, who finished fourth in the seventh race – but did honor his final four commitments.
The stewards conducted an inquiry into the stretch run of the Senorita, but ruled the pair of minor incidents involving Bobina and My Gi Gi offset, so there was no change in the order of finish.
A Florida bred, Bobina, who was last after the opening four furlongs, completed the mile on turf in 1:35.18. The win was her third in as many starts and increased her earnings to $128,400.
Providing Espinoza with his first win in the race since Makeup Artist in 2003, the Florida bred paid $8, $4.60 and $3.40.
Making her initial appearance for trainer Peter Eurton – who also saddled pacesetter and eventual sixth place finisher Belle Passe – and first start since last Dec. 3, My Gi Gi paid $8.80 and $4.60 One length back in third was Byrama. The show price on the English bred was $3. Graser, the 2-1 favorite, wound up fourth.
“I hurt my left index finger,’’ said Espinoza. “It’s the same hand where I had an old injury, but in a different place. I rolled a few times and I kind of hit it right there.
“She was running unbelievable, as hard as she could. She bobbled a little for one step before the wire and I tried to hold her together. Next thing, I know she just went down. For a minute I thought I was going to handle it, but it was impossible.
“It was just one wrong step. There was no warning. She didn’t give me any sign that anything was bothering her.’’
Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert for a partnership that includes George Bolton, Majestic Racing Stable LLC and Summit Racing LLC, Flightofalifetime earned his second win in five attempts, wiring six opponents in the Cool Frenchy.
A 4-year-old Werblin colt out of the Fly So Free mare Dreamflight, Flightofalifetime completed the five furlongs over Cushion Track in 57.22 seconds. The $43,400 payday pushed his bankroll to $88,950.
Making his second start after a layoff of more than 11 months, Flightofalifetime had a four length lead with an eighth of a mile to run, then had enough left to prevail by 1 ¼ lengths over 16-1 shot Silver Summation. Obviously, the 11-10 favorite, was a half-length back in third.
Flightofalifetime, the 3-1 second choice, paid $8.60, $4.60 and $3. Silver Summation returned $13 and $5.60 while Obviously paid $2.60 to show.
“My flight was 45 minutes delayed in Louisville and by the time I got to my connection in Charlotte the plane was long gone, so I had to wait for another flight,’’ said Talamo. “This horse is so quick. I just had to sit on him. He dragged me right to the lead and got it done.’’
The main event on the nine race program Sunday is the $70,000 Time To Leave Stakes. The five furlong race over Cushion Track for fillies and mares is headed by Teddy’s Promise, Izzy Rules and Rumor. The Time To Leave goes as the eighth.
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