Pacific Ocean was a powerful winner in his first start for new connections, easily capturing the $100,000 Vernon O. Underwood Stakes.
Purchased privately by Dennis Narlinger’s JMJ Racing Stables LLC and transferred to the barn of Mike Mitchell, the 4-year-old gelding showed surprising speed (21.52, 43.78 and 55.66 for the first five-eighths of a mile) to quickly assume command after breaking from the rail in the Grade III. The margin of victory was 2 ¼ lengths.
Ridden by Joel Rosario, the 7-1 shot, who hadn’t raced before Saturday since July 20, completed the six furlongs over Cushion Track in 1:08.48. The clocking was the fastest for the distance in 2011 at Hollywood Park.
The win was the fourth in six starts for the son of Ghostzapper and the Unbridled mare Miss Salsa. His first graded victory increased his bankroll to $153,199.
The Underwood was marred afterwards by the death – probably of a heart attack – of runner-up Irrefutable, one of a trio started by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
Shortly after being unsaddled, the 5-year-old gray son of Unbridled’s Song and the Kingmambo mare Honestly Darling was stricken. Owned by Kaleem Shah, Irrefutable won four of 13 while earning $286,980.
Hollywood Park is the fourth different track at which Pacific Ocean has run, joining Arlington Park, Keeneland and Woodbine, and the third at which he has won. He was seventh in the Bold Venture at Woodbine in his final outing when trained by Wayne Catalano for former owners Gary and Mary West.
Never more than 7-2 in any of his earlier races, Pacific Ocean paid $16.80, $8.60 and $6. Irrefutable, who finished a half-length in front of 5-1 shot M One Rifle, returned $8.20 and $5. M One Rifle, who was seeking his third win over the Hollywood Park main track, was $4.20.
Euroears, the 8-5 favorite and 126-pound high weight trained by Baffert, was fourth, a neck behind M One Rifle and three-quarters of a length in front of stablemate Quiet Invader.
“He blew out in 58 and change (58 3/5 seconds Nov. 12 over Cushion Track) working with Carbonite (the sixth place finisher in the Underwood) and it was a really solid work for both of them,’’ said Mitchell. “It’s a good thing I didn’t talk to Joel because I would have said just sit there and let everybody go. And here he’s on the lead. That’s why if you don’t know anything, you don’t say anything.’’
In addition to the Underwood, Rosario won two other races to widen his lead in the standings. Through 11 days of the Autumn meet, he has 17 victories, leaving him five clear of Rafael Bejarano.