CHARLES WHITTINGHAM STAKES | PURSE: $200,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 2 | 1 1/4 MILES (TURF)
A change in tactics helped Fire With Fire produce a 7-1 upset in the $200,000 Charles Whittingham Handicap May 24 on the grass at Santa Anita Park, giving Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale a record-tying seventh win in the race.
Coming off a head defeat to Quick Casablanca in the Last Tycoon Stakes, Fire With Fire turned the tables on that rival with a charging come-from-behind win in the 1 ¼-mile Whittingham, which he won by a neck in a time of 2:00.92 over firm ground. Segway, three lengths clear in the stretch before being collared in the final few strides, took second by a neck over the fast-closing Quick Casablanca in another terrific finish on the Santa Anita lawn.
Tyler Baze was the winning rider for owner David Heerensperger as Drysdale tied his mentor Whittingham for most wins in the prestigious race, contested at Santa Anita for the first time. Called the Hollywood Invitational Turf Handicap until renamed for one of racing's all-time great trainers in 1999, it was a grade I event at shuttered Hollywood Park until last year.
The understated Drysdale said the win had special meaning after serving as Whittingham's assistant from 1970-74.
"Obviously, I'm delighted to win a race with Whittingham's name attached to it," he said.
Fire With Fire scored the San Luis Rey Stakes at Santa Anita in front-running style March 22 and used the same approach in the Last Tycoon, in which he was caught by Quick Casablanca just before the wire.
"Obviously, we discovered that he doesn't need to be on the lead," Drysdale said. "His last two races, he's kicked on very well. The race set up very well. When Quick Casablanca came at him, he went with him. Tyler [Baze] gave him a lovely ride, didn't he? The horse runs for him."
Off his win in the nine-furlong last Tycoon, Quick Casablanca was made the 8-5 favorite over a field of nine older grass performers.
With additional speed signed on for the Whittingham, Baze kept the 6-year-old Distorted Humor gelding toward the rear of the pack in sixth for the first six furlongs. Bright Thought went to the front, pressed to his inside by Soi Phet with Segway and Joelito stalking on the outside. Bright Thought set a quick tempo for the distance while opening a half-length advantage on Soi Phet, getting the opening quarter mile in :23.42 seconds, the half in :46.78 seconds, and 1:11.31 for three-quarters.
Segway advanced on the leader rounding the far turn, poking his head in front near the quarter pole (1:35.75). He took over in the lane, opening up a clear advantage and setting sail for home under urging from Gary Stevens. But Fire With Fire, rallying three wide under Baze when Quick Casablanca came to him in the drive, stayed in front of his rival all the way to wire while sweeping past Segway from between horses just in time.
"I can do whatever I want with him, he's very classy," said Baze of Fire With Fire after his second Whittingham win. "It's a confidence you get with horses. I know he's going to be there when I ask him and he's really shown me, from last year to this year, that he likes being out there on the lead.
"I thought I would be laying third today to Segway and Bright Thought, but it just didn't work out that way. He relaxed so nice and I didn't know what I was going to have left in the tank, but I knew he would give me something. When we started going around the far turn, he just started to go on by himself and I thought 'good, he's showing up and gonna run his race today!' And when Quick Casablanca came up on our outside, it helped move him along even more. It's so nice to ride a horse like him, who's so honest."
Irish Surf was fourth, followed by Bright Thought, Soi Phet, Dr Action, African Oil, and Joelito.
Fire With Fire has won three of his past four starts beginning with a victory in the Cotton Fitzsimmons Stakes on the Turf Paradise grass in January. That confidence builder snapped a five-race losing streak for the muscular gray, who is out of the Capote mare Cosmic Fire. The winner was bred in Kentucky by Patricia Pavlish.
Carrying top weight of 124 pounds, he improved his career line to 7-8-5 in 32 races while banking $655,354.
Fire With Fire paid $16.60, $6.60, and $2.60 as the fifth choice, keying a $73.20 exacta with Segway, who just missed collecting his first stakes win for Richard Mandella and owners Alain and Gerard Wertheimer of France. The homebred son of Giant's Causeway returned $5.40 and $2.80. Quick Casablanca proved his Last Tycoon victory at 16-1 odds was no fluke and paid $2.40 to show.
"I was further back than I wanted to be today," Joe Talamo said of Quick Casablanca, who raced in last much of the way. "We got squeezed at the start and it was hard to catch them. I thought the added distance would help today, but that's horse racing."
Drysdale previously won the Whittingham/Hollywood Turf Invitational in Both Ends Burning (1985), Political Ambition (1988), Storm Trooper (1998), White Heat (2000), Storming Home (2003), and Artiste Royale (2008).