Making her first start since trailing in a Grade II more than three months ago, Flor de La Mar finished strongly to capture the $75,000 Beverly J. Lewis Stakes Saturday at Los Alamitos.
Three races later, Oliver was successful in his first dirt route, taking the $75,000 E.B. Johnston Stakes under jockey Martin Garcia.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert for Goldolphin LLC, Flor de La Mar, the 5-2 second choice in the field of six 3-year-old fillies, was outrun early, rallied outside under Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith to surge past 9-2 shot Madame Vestal and prevail by a half-length.
The win was the second in six starts for the daughter of Tiznow and the Pulpit mare Sacristy. A $500,000 yearling purchase, Flor de La Mar completed the six furlongs in 1:09.22 and the $42,375 payday increased her bankroll to $173,015. She paid $7.20, $4.40 and $3.
Madame Vestal, a 16-1 upsetter in her first race of 2019 last month at Del Mar, finished 1 ¾ lengths in front of the Baffert-trained Message and returned $4.20 and. $3.20. The show price on Message was $3.80.
Completing the order of finish were Andyoushallreceive, Motion Emotion, the 6-5 favorite who was making her first start in California for trainer Richard Baltas, and Nomizar.
Well beaten in the Summertime Oaks May 26 after finishing 11th – via disqualification – in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks 23 days earlier, Flor de La Mar again demonstrated she can fire fresh. The dark bay won her Jan. 20 debut by five lengths.
“She's been doing well,'' said Baffert assistant trainer Mike Marlow. “She just needed a little bit of a break. She got a little bit light and her last couple of races weren't that impressive.
“I think the freshening helped her and she was impressive today in the last part of the race. She gets a little wound up in the post parade once in a while and (Smith) got her to settle well and I think that was a big factor today.''
The stakes win was the 21st for Baffert at Los Alamitos since daytime thoroughbred racing returned in July, 2014 and the 11th for Smith.
Baffert is the runaway all-time leader – Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas is second with eight – while Smith moved into a tie for third with Martin Pedroza. They trail Corey Black (13) and Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux (12).
The totals include the Orange County Fair meets run at Los Alamitos between 1977-1991.
Owned by William Peeples and trained by Doug O'Neill, Oliver, a 3-year-old Papa Clem colt out of the Premiership mare Snobby Princess won the Johnston by 1 ½ lengths after a pace-pressing trip.
The win was the second in a row – he had romped to a five-length score in an optional claimer at six furlongs last month at Del Mar – for Oliver and his fourth in 13 lifetime outings. He's earned $228,076.
The 3-1 second choice in the field of eight horses bred or sired in California, Oliver returned $8.80, $5.60 and $3.80 while completing the mile in 1:35.32.
Tule Fog, a 22-1 shot, was second, five lengths better than 8-1 shot Queen Bee to You. The runner-up and third place finishers had been 1-2 earlier this year in the Bertrando Stakes in their last appearance at Los Alamitos with Queen Bee to You finishing a nose in front of Tule Fog that day (June 29).
Tule Fog paid $15.60 and $7.60 while Queen Bee to You's show price was $3.60.
Completing the order of finish were 8-5 favorite Cruel Intention, California Journey, Fire When Ready, Smokey Image and Shades of Victory, who was 80-1 when he won the 2018 Johnston.
“I am very proud of (Oliver),'' said Leandro Mora, O'Neill's assistant trainer. “I talked to Doug this morning and he asked me which one of our horses I liked on the card today and I told him I liked Oliver. I like the way this horse is improving, so I felt confident. He's just matured a lot as he's gotten older.''
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