Kingly, another talented runner from the power-packed barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, gamely withstood the late challenge of 9-5 favored Neptune's Storm to win the featured Grade 3, $150,000 La Jolla Handicap Sunday at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in Del Mar, Calif.
After setting a swift pace under jockey Mario Gutierrez, Kingly, off at odds of 8-1, had enough left to hold off Neptune's Storm and prevail by a neck in a fast 1:39.95 for the mile and one-sixteenth over the infield Jimmy Durante Turf Course.
Jasikan, winner of the opening-day Runhappy Oceanside Stakes, closed steadily to be third, 3 1/4 lengths behind Neptune's Storm and 1 1/2 lengths ahead of fourth-place Rijeka in the field of eight 3-year-olds.
Kingly, a son of Tapit owned by Clearview Stable and RAC 04 Racing, scored his third victory in eight starts. First money of $90,000 increased the colt's earnings to $242,200.
To his backers, Kingly paid $18.60, $8.60 and $4.80. Neptune's Storm, ridden by Drayden Van Dyke, returned $3.80 and $2.60, while Jasikan paid $2.60 to show.
Flavien Prat and Ruben Fuente doubled on the eight-race program. Prat's winners were Dr Wysong in the third and Offshore in the fourth, while Fuentes clicked aboard Super Klaus in the first and Passing in the eighth.
Eight Rings, a two-year-old son of Empire Maker trained by Baffert, made an auspicious debut in the fifth race, winning by six and one-quarter lengths under Van Dyke after stepping five and one-half furlongs in a quick 1:03.68. The colt paid $3.20.
MARIO GUTIERREZ (Kingly, winner) – “He's a hard horse to ride. We've tried different things with him, but today we just decided to let him do his thing. He took me there (the lead) and then he rated perfectly. In the stretch, he just went. He's a nice horse.”
DRAYDEN VAN DYKE (Neptune's Storm, second) – “The winner ran off up front a long way, but I thought he'd come back to me. Then my horse hung. If he has a horse come up outside him, he breaks again. We would have won it. But it didn't happen.”
FLAVIEN PRAT (Jasikan, third) – “I had a good trip. It was hard to make up ground today.”
JIM BARNES, assistant to Bob Baffert (Kingly, winner) – “His prior races have been a little erratic: we tried to cover him up, take him back and a few things. But at the end of the day, I think it's best to just let him run. He's a Tapit and they're all different but I think he wants to be free on the lead. When he rebroke when the other horse got close, I was very happy with him. Mario knew what to do, he had a plan and he executed it. ”
FRACTIONS : :22.15 :46.16 1:10.48 1:33.92 1:39.95
The stakes win was the first of the meet and first in the La Jolla for rider Gutierrez. He now has 16 stakes wins at Del Mar.
The stakes win was the first of the meet, but the second (Purely Cozzene, 2000) in the La Jolla for trainer Baffert. He now has 129 stakes wins at Del Mar, more than any other trainer.
The winner is owned by Clearview Stable (Bernard Cleary of Lexington, KY), RAC 04 Racing (Ralph Currie of Lexington, KY) and Michael Meegan.
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