COUGAR II HANDICAP | PURSE: $100,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 3 | 1 1/2 MILES
Mired in a yearlong slump since moving to the Doug O'Neill barn from Bob Baffert, Richard's Kid snapped out of it with a repeat victory in the $100,000 Cougar II Handicap July 26 at Del Mar.
Closing from the far outside under Joe Talamo, the hard-ridden 8-year-old horse defeated Baffert's even-money favorite Sky Kingdom by half a length, with pacesetter Blueskiesnrainbows a half-length farther back in third. The final time for the 1 ½-mile Polytrack event was 2:30.93, not far off the mark of 2:29.22 Richard's Kid established last year.
If Richard's Kid was ever going to regain his winning form after losing 10 straight, it figured to happen at Del Mar, where he has won four of eight starts. He captured the Pacific Classic in both 2009 and 2010 in addition to last year's triumph in the Cougar II, a race in which he has also finished second and third.
"He really laid it down all the way," Talamo said of the winner, who raced closer to the pace than usual due to a very slow tempo. "He kept fighting and fighting the last sixteenth. He really tries hard and he loves this racetrack."
Following last year's Cougar II win, Richard's Kid was purchased by a partnership that includes Triple B Farms, Dave Kenney, and Westside Rentals.com from Zabeel Racing International. It came as Baffert was preparing Richard's Kid for a possible third win in the Pacific Classic, and caused hard feelings on the part of the Hall of Fame trainer. Richard's Kid went on to finish third in the million-dollar race for O'Neill. It was won by Dullahan in an upset over the Baffert-trained Game On Dude.
With his latest win at odds of 4-1, a fourth trip to the Pacific Classic seems likely for Richard's Kid, a son of Lemon Drop Kid.
Four scratches reduced the Cougar II field to seven, with Westrock Stables' Sky Kingdom, winner of the Tokyo City Stakes at 12 furlongs March 23 at Santa Anita Park, receiving most of the support. Among the key scratches was Kettle Corn, the second choice on the morning line, who was also entered in the San Diego Handicap July 27.
Blueskiesnrainbows, ridden by Martin Pedroza, took the early lead from Mr T Bird and Sky Kingdom, with Martin Garcia up, but was just loping along as Sky Kingdom rated in second on his outside.
Blueskiesnrainbows ran the opening half mile in :49.93, six furlongs in 1:15.75, and 1:41.01 for the mile, and was a threat to take them all the way as they rounded the final turn.
Richard's Kid rallied five wide to reach contention after racing in fifth to the quarter pole and battled under urging past the furlong pole. Sky Kingdom gained a slight edge in deep stretch over a stubborn Blueskiesnrainbows. But Richard's Kid continued to grind, getting the lead in the final yards under a strong drive from Talamo.
"He's such a very classy horse," Talamo said. "He was on cruise control the whole way. They were going so slow early, I was having a little trouble going between those two horses [Blueskiesnrainbows and Sky Kingdom]. But I tell you, he's all racehorse."
Bred in Maryland by Fitzhugh out of the Broad Brush mare Tough Broad, Richard's Kid was making his 46th lifetime start. With 12 wins, three seconds, and a dozen thirds, he has amassed earnings of $2,422,259.
Oilisblackgold finished fourth, followed by Mr T Bird, Majestic Moment, and Grandstand.
Richard's Kid paid $10.80, $3.60, and $3, topping a $20.80 exacta with Sky Kingdom, who returned $2.80 and $2.40. Blueskiesnrainbows was $4.60 to show.
Also scratched were Golden Itiz, Lime Rickey, and Rousing Sermon.