Hustled to the front shortly after the start and then beautifully rated by Hall of Fame jockey Victor Espinoza, Midcourt scored his fourth consecutive victory with an impressive performance in the featured Grade III $100,000 Native Diver Stakes Saturday at Del Mar.
Midcourt, owned by the C R K Stable of Lee and Susan Searing of Rancho Cucamonga and trained by John Shirreffs, shook off the stalking Extra Hope entering the stretch and drew off to win by five and three-quarter lengths in 1:48.36 for the mile and one-eighth over the fast main dirt track.
Extra Hope, with Flavien Prat aboard seeking his fifth win on the afternoon, was a length and one-quarter in front of Two Thirty Five, with 4-5 favored Roadster another two and three-quarter lengths back in fourth and last in a disappointing effort. Scratched from the race were Leading Score and Zestful.
Midcourt, a four-year-old gelded son of Midnight Lute, returned $7.60 and $4.40 as the second choice, with Extra Hope paying $5.20 to place. There was no show wagering because of the small field.
Midcourt earned $60,000 with his fourth triumph in seven outings and now has earned $198,695 in his career. He won the Comma to the Top Stakes in late October at Santa Anita.
Prat began his day with a win astride Challah at $8.20 in the second, took the fourth on Del Mar May at $4.40, the fifth on Miss Flawless in a $36.80 upset and capped his quadruple with a win on debuting Ancient Warrior at $6.80 in the sixth. In the ninth and final race, his mount, even-money favored Fivestar Lynch, lost by a nose to Takeo, trained by Shirreffs.
VICTOR ESPINOZA (Midcourt, winner) – “The whole thing today was I knew I had to let him do what he wants. He's that kind of horse. I knew there wasn't much speed in there today. And even though he's never been on the lead in his races, I thought he might if he broke OK. He got out of there well and I gave him just a little encouragement and he went to the front. He was going so easy doing it, I knew when it came time he was really going to go.”
FLAVIEN PRAT (Extra Hope, second) – “Good race for him; good try.”
ABEL CEDILLO (Two Thirty Five, third) – “My horse gave it a good try. The winner just never stopped.”
JOHN SHIRREFFS (Midcourt, winner) – “It wasn't the way I expected. I didn't think they'd take off that soon and go to the lead. But Victor (Espinoza) rode him great and he wanted to run today. He's been training well but there's always a step up they have to take in the afternoons. You hope there's a realization then. He's doing really well right now so we'll go on to Santa Anita and see what we can do.”
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