COUGAR II STAKES | PURSE: $100,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 3 | 1 1/2 MILES
The $100,000 Cougar II Stakes may have been a marathon, but it was over in a hurry after Irish Surf took command and never received a challenge the evening of July 25 at Del Mar.
This was the first stakes victory for the beautifully-bred Irish Surf, and just his third win from 18 starts overall.
Irish Surf was ridden craftily by Elvis Trujillo, who sent the 4-year-old son of Giant's Causeway on his way before a third of the 1 ½-mile journey was completed. On his own the rest of the way, as it turned out, the 15-2 shot cruised home by 8 ¼ lengths in a track-record time of 2:29.01 over the Polytrack.
The clocking eclipsed the mark of 2:29.22 established by Richard's Kid in the 2012 Cougar II. Richard's Kid also won the race last year.
Gainesway Stable's homebred Irish Surf, out of the 2000 Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old filly Surfside, by Seattle Slew, snapped an eight-race losing streak for trainer Dan Hendricks. The bay colt is owned in partnership by Thor-Bred Stable.
"I tried to sit back a little but the horse ran off a little bit," said the Panamanian Trujillo, currently based in Southern California after competing for most of his career on the Florida-New Jersey circuit. "He was comfortable, so it was okay. He ran very well."
It was an unusual day for Trujillo, who was dropped in the first race by his mount, 6-5 favorite Delaney's Joy, after clipping heels near the quarter pole.
Hendricks previously won the Cougar II in 2006 with Runaway Dancer.
Three scratches left a field of eight for the Cougar II, with the Bob Baffert-trained Sky Kingdom, the only horse in the field with a win at the 1 ½-mile distance, made the 11-10 favorite.
Breaking from the far outside in the three-turn event, Irish Surf settled in the third shortly after the start as outsider Ice Cream Truck set a modest pace while tracked by Sky Kingdom. After a :25.71 seconds opening quarter mile, Irish Surf advanced to the leader on the outside. Let out a notch by Trujillo, he opened up at will while stepping a half-mile in :50.08 seconds, six furlongs in 1:14.38, and a mile in 1:39.66.
Up the backstretch, Irish Surf was in command by as many as eight lengths. While Sky Kingdom cut into the lead a little heading the final turn, trailing by five as they reached the quarter pole in 2:04.25, Irish Surf was never in any serious trouble as he made his way into the stretch and opened up again under some left-handed urging by Trujillo.
Sky Kingdom held second with Victor Espinoza aboard, 1 ¾ lengths in front of Ice Cream Truck and Tiago Pereira. Bailoutbobby was fourth, followed by Layton Register, Old Time Hockey, and Lideris. Longview Drive broke down through the stretch the first time and was vanned off.
Irish Surf was coming off a fourth-place finish in the Charles Whittingham Memorial Stakes at 10 furlongs on the turf at Santa Anita Park May 24. He won for the first time in four starts this year while boosting his earnings to $213,660. His prior two wins came on grass.
Carrying 117 pounds, Irish Surf paid $17.60, $6.20, and $4 as the fourth choice. Sky Kingdom, who won the 12-furlong Tokyo City Cup at Santa Anita in March 2013 and was second in last year's Cougar II, returned $3 and $2.40. The exacta was worth $45. Ice Cream Truck paid $5 to show.
Scratched from the original 11-horse filed was Soi Phet, who is expected to run in the San Diego Handicap July 26, American Blend, and Big John B.