Like clockwork, perennially punctual 8-year-old gelding Mr Gruff registered his sixth victory in eight starts over Santa Anita’s hillside turf course Sunday when scoring a one-half length victory over Ain’t No Other in the 5th running of the $79,880 Joe Hernandez Handicap at 6 ½ furlongs.
As the 4-5 favorite, Mr Gruff was instrumental in spreading the wealth generated by Santa Anita’s largest total Pick Six pool in over three years, $3,110,484, after a two-day carryover materialized from Saturday’s Santa Anita Handicap Day.
There were 35 winning tickets in Sunday’s Pick Six, each worth $53,204.80. The total pool was the largest since fans poured a total $4,315,720 into the track’s Pick Six pool on Jan. 10, 2009.
Nobody got rich off of the front-running Mr Gruff, who persevered gamely under jockey Joel Rosario to turn back a dogged Ain’t No Other, ridden by Martin Garcia. Pressday finished another 1 ¼ lengths back in third with Mike Smith aboard. The final time was 1:12.06.
The winner’s affinity for the unique downhill grass layout is quite remarkable. He has raced only 13 times, but eight of his career starts have been contested over the course with just one of his seven wins achieved elsewhere.
In his customary style, the bay son of Mr. Greeley soon gained the lead in the Hernandez, but he was hounded much of the way by Ain’t No Other. Mr Gruff seemed to kick away at the head of the lane, opening up by 1 ½ lengths, but his pursuer grittily kept to his task down to the wire.
Mr Gruff paid $3.60, $2.80 and $2.60. The payoffs on Ain’t No Other were $6.80 and $3.80. Australian-bred Pressday paid $3.40 to show.
The victory by Mr Gruff righted one of the rare blotches on his downhill course record, a third-place finish behind Caracortado and Victory Pete in the Grade III Daytona Stakes on Jan. 8.
“I was a little too quick with this horse last time and he got tired,” said Rosario. “He was more relaxed today. I got just a little bit of pressure on the outside and inside, but he handled it very well. He’s such a nice horse, and I think he can do anything.”
“This horse just loves running down the hill,” commented Ron Ellis, who trains Mr Gruff for Gary S. Broad. “He’s just a classy horse and I’ve got to love him because I bought him as a yearling.”
The winning purse of $44,400 increased the career earnings of Mr Gruff to $351,510 from an overall record of 7-2-2 in his 13 races.