POPULAR JOCKEY WINS FIRST-EVER NORTH AMERICAN STAKES
ARCADIA, Calif. (May 10, 2014)–Arizona-bred Top Fortitude broke running and heavily favored Kobe’s Back didn’t, and the result was a stunning 30-1 upset in Saturday’s Grade III, $100,000 Lazaro Barrera Stakes. Ridden by Australian native Kayla Stra, who picked up her first-ever North American stakes win, Top Fortitude won by 1 ½ lengths over an unlucky Tonito M. while covering seven furlongs in 1:22.98.
Trained by R. Kory Owens and owned and bred by his family’s Triple AAA Ranch, Top Fortitude broke sharply from the outside in a field of seven 3-year-olds and sat a close third just off of Ferocious, with Joe Talamo and Twenty Percent, who was ridden by Mike Smith. Coming to the 5/16 pole, Top Fortitude collared Ferocious and those two battled to the sixteenth pole.
When asked if she was aware that the favorite had broken poorly, Stra responded “I heard Corey (Nakatani) say ‘Oh (blank),’ so I knew he hadn’t broken well. I thought there would be two horses on the lead, maybe not the two that I thought, but it still helped in how it worked out. I think everything went to plan. When I looked at the Form, it seemed pretty simple…
“He’s a tough horse. He’s just so solid, even the way he’s built. I knew he would handle the dirt, it’s just the dirt in his face that he doesn’t like.”
By Top Hit, Top Fortitude paid $62.20, $17.80 and $9.00. Top Fortitude, who was making only his third start, picked up his second win and $60,000, boosting his earnings to $87,250.
“His last race (a last place finish in a first condition allowance going seven furlongs April 12), it was like an eight-horse sprawl in front of him and he couldn’t get to go inside or around them…I was just hoping he got enough out of the race before…because I know the track the last few days has been acting like it’s not as fast as it was a couple of weeks ago,” said Owens.
Tonito M., a Puerto Rican-raced multiple stakes winning Group I winner in Puerto Rico, got shuffled back around the far turn and flew late to be second in his U.S. debut for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
“About the three-eighths pole, the horse in front of me (Twenty Percent, with Mike Smith) slowed down and I ran into him, so I had to wait a little bit too much,” said Victor Espinoza, who picked the mount up from an injured Rafael Bejarano late in the day. “By the time I found room, it was too late. But he’s an awesome horse. He ran great.”
Off at 9-1, Tonito M. finished a half length in front of Ferocious and paid $8.40 and $6.40.
Ferocious, a highly regarded colt from the Ron Ellis barn, broke from the rail and was head and head through splits of 22.95, 46.19 and 1:10.69. The second choice at 3-1, he paid $4.00 to show.
Heavily favored at 3-5, Kobe’s Back, who has had a history of trouble leaving the gate, broke slowly and although he appeared to have dead aim on the winner a furlong out, couldn’t outrun the top three late and finished fourth, 2 ½ lengths behind Top Fortitude.
Racing resumes at Santa Anita on Sunday, with first post time at 1 p.m. Admission gates will open at 11 a.m.