When 3-year-old Sharp Samurai won a race at Santa Anita on June 17 and was promptly sold, his new owners had plenty of enticing options for his next challenge.
The Grade I Belmont Derby, Grade II Los Alamitos Derby and Del Mar’s big turf opener, the Oceanside, were all considerations.
None of them ended up feeling right.
With six career races for the horse — three of them wins — trainer Mark Glatt opted to rest Sharp Samurai and ready him for the second of Del Mar’s three premier summer turf races.
The strategy proved sound when Sharp Samurai ran to a narrow, thrilling victory on Sunday over 1 1/8 miles on the grass in the Grade III $150,000 La Jolla Handicap.
“It turned out to be a wise decision (to pass on the other races),” Glatt said. “This horse wants more ground to run on and I thought it would be too quick to run him in both (the Oceanside and La Jolla). We just stayed patient and it looks like it paid off.
“Hopefully, he’ll come out of it good, and it looks like we've got a legit shot at the Del Mar Derby (on Sept. 3).”
It was a pleasing result for the new owners at Red Baron’s Barn and Rancho Temescal, who bought Sharp Samurai from Al and Sandee Kirkwood.
The eight-horse race didn’t unfold the way Glatt and rider Gary Stevens thought it would.
“As they in Europe, a messy race,” Stevens said.
Stevens had to hold Sharp Samurai back when he wanted to run hard early, but then had to ask him earlier than the jockey liked to snatch the lead. In the last 100 yards, Fashion Business, with Joe Talamo, was closing furiously and ended up being short by a head to the winner ($4.40).
“Good thing I saw his shadow out of the corner of my eye,” Stevens said.
The stakes victory was the second of the meet for Stevens and 96th overall at Del Mar, tying him for third place all-time with Laffit Pincay Jr.
In the $100,000 Graduation Stakes for Cal-bred 2-year-olds, run at 5 ½ furlongs on dirt, Continental Divide prevailed as trainer James Cassidy broke an 0-for-24 winless streak with 2-year-olds.
Sired by 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, Continental Divide was a $245,000 purchase by owners DP Racing during the Barretts May Sale. He opened his career with a second place finish at Del Mar on July 17.
With Victor Espinoza riding, Continental Divide ($9.20) beat Smokem (Evin Roman) by three-quarters of a length.
“The price we paid for him looks like a fair one now,” Cassidy said. “Right from day one he has never let anything bother him. You can set a bomb off next to him and he doesn’t care. He’s got the greatest mind.”
Gas Station Sushi lived up to high expectations by winning her debut in Sunday’s third race for 2-year-old maiden fillies. Purchased in March for $240,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. auction, Gas Station Sushi ($4.20) – trained by Richard Baltas and ridden by Corey Nakatani – went off as the even-money favorite in a field of 10 and ran strongly down the stretch to easily beat runner-up Broome. The victory likely will lead to a start in the Grade I Del Mar Debutante on Sept. 2.
Jockey Kent Desormeaux, who had only five wins in 33 starts before Sunday, notched two victories — on Zuzanna in the second race and Banze No Oeste in the fourth.
Racing executive Brad McKinzie, who played a key role in the expansion of Los Alamitos in recent years, died Sunday afternoon after a battle with cancer, the Daily Racing Form reported. He was 69. McKinzie had a 40-year career in the sport, primarily in Quarter Horse racing at Los Alamitos.