MR GRUFF RETURNS WITH FACILE VICTORY OVER HIS PET DOWNHILL COURSE

ARCADIA, Calif. (March 19, 2010) – Sidelined since winning the Grade III San Simeon Handicap at Santa Anita last April, 6-year-old gelding Mr Gruff picked up where he left off Friday with a dominant triumph in Santa Anita’s $54,200 allowance feature over 6 ½ furlongs on turf.

Under a hand ride by Joel Rosario, Mr Gruff drew away from pacesetter Prairie City Road in midstretch to score by 2 ¾ lengths while being geared down as he negotiated the distance in 1:11.69, a fifth of a second faster than his San Simeon victory over the same layout.

Bet down to 9-10 favoritism despite the lengthy hiatus, Mr Gruff’s win over Santa Anita’s unique downhill course was his fourth in his fifth successive start over the winding span that begins at the top of a hill and briefly crosses the main track.

“I’ve never had a horse go four-for-five down the hill,” said Ron Ellis, who trains Mr Gruff for Gary S. Broad. “The San Simeon (on April 17) has been the goal all along. We wanted to get a race in him (Friday) and be the defending champion.”

The lightly-raced son of Mr. Greeley was given a break following last year’s San Simeon win, but was found to have a sore back when he returned to training. Chiropractic treatment eventually cured the back ailment, but kept him out of last November’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint over the downhill course.

“I really wish we could’ve run him in the Breeders’ Cup. He’s that good of a horse,” said Ellis.

“He seems more relaxed now,” Rosario said after dismounting on Friday. “I think he knows what he’s doing and he seems more confident.” Rosario has been aboard in each of Mr Gruff’s five races over the course with only a nose separating him from perfection.

Prairie City Road, who led through early splits of 21.59 and 43.52, gamely held on for the place with Joe Talamo aboard. It was 1 ½ lengths back to third-place finisher Kelly Leak, the 4-1 second choice ridden by Mike Smith.

Mr Gruff paid $3.80, $2.80 and $2.40. Prairie City Road returned $7.60 and $4.20. Kelly Leak paid $3.20 to show. The latter, who had defeated eventual Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird when taking the Sunland Derby last March, had been off since October.

The win was worth $31,800 while lifting the career earnings of Mr Gruff to $169,680 from 4-2-0 record in his seven lifetime starts.

Bourbon Bay is the 9-5 morning line favorite among 10 turf marathoners who will compete in Saturday’s 59th running of the Grade II, $150,000 San Luis Rey Handicap at 1 ½ miles, the featured event on a 10-race program that begins at 12:30 p.m. The card also features the $100,000 Irish O’Brien Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares at 6 ½ furlongs on turf.

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