Favored Majestic Stride gave trainer Jeff Bonde his second consecutive win in the $100,000 Vernon O. Underwood Stakes Thursday at Betfair Hollywood Park.
After stalking the quick pace (21.86 and 44.35 for the opening half-mile) set by stablemate Anillo, the 4-year-old gelded son of Trippi and the Great Above mare Great Looking Miss took the lead entering the stretch, repelled a challenge from 7-1 shot Color of Courage and went on to prevail by 2 ½ lengths in the Thanksgiving Day feature.
Bonde, who won the Grade III for owners Alan Klein and Phil Lebherz with Smiling Tiger in 2012, became only the third trainer to win the Underwood in consecutive years. Wesley Ward went back-to-back with Men’s Exclusive (2000, 2001) and John Sadler repeated with Frost Free in 1990 after winning with Olympic Prospect in 1989.
Less than four weeks removed from a fourth-place finish – 1 ½ lengths behind winner Secret Circle – in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, Majestic Stride, who is owned by Klein, Lebherz and Edward Brown, Jr., won for the fourth time in seven starts. The $60,000 payday pushed his earnings to $243,600.
Ridden by Edwin Maldonado, the Florida bred completed the six furlongs over Cushion Track in 1:08.87. He paid $3.40, $2.40 and $2.10 as the 7-10 choice. The win price matched the shortest in Underwood history. Paying Dues also returned $3.40 when he won in 1996 under Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day.
“That was the plan – give Anillo a head start and sit second – but (Chosen Miracle) kind of pushed me the first quarter mile and I didn’t want to put too much pressure on our horse,’’ said Maldonado. “I knew he was going to win today because he had a little trouble (in the BC Sprint). He’s a nice horse.’’
Making his first start since he finished fifth in the Grade I Bing Crosby July 31, 2011 at Del Mar, Color of Courage made a bold move while wide around the turn, but could not sustain and had to settle for second.
The 6-year-old Came Home gelding paid $4.60 and $3.20 while finishing 1 ¼ lengths in front of 3-1 second choice Handsome Mike, who returned $2.60 to show.
Anillo and Chosen Miracle completed the order of finish. Roman Threat was scratched.
Jockey Victor Espinoza, who had two winners through the first 12 days of the final Autumn meet, tripled Thursday. Espinoza won the second with first-time starter Mesana and the fifth and sixth with, respectively, Wings of Mojave and In Dad’s Honor.
Racing will resume Friday. Post time is 12:30 p.m. Track gates will open at 9:55 a.m. for simulcasts.
The three-day Turf Festival begins with the Grade II, $250,000 Citation Handicap at 1 1/16 miles. The field of seven – reduced by the Thursday scratch of He Be Fire N Ice - includes Silentio, third behind 2012 Horse of the Year Wise and Za Approval in the Breeders’ Cup Mile Nov. 2 and Winning Prize, a three-time Group I winner in his native Argentina. The Citation is the seventh of nine races.
This will also be the fourth Fiesta Friday, featuring food and drink specials between 2-4 p.m. and Gold Club members can enter to win a $100 mutuel voucher.