Photos courtesy Benoit & Associates
By Jack Shinar - Blood-Horse
Sahara Sky took advantage of a blistering pace to tally a one-length victory from off the pace for a 21-1 upset in the $150,500 Palos Verdes Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 19 at Santa Anita Park.
The 5-year-old son of Pleastant Tap, owned by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and Kim Lloyd's Sweetwater Stable, captured his graded stakes debut while completing six furlongs in a sizzling 1:07.73 over a very fast track.
Sent off as the longest shot in the field, the winner was making his first appearance since a fourth-place finish in an allowance race June 22 at Betfair Hollywood Park. He is now 3-for-5 at Santa Anita with two seconds.
Bred in Florida by Martin Stables, the winning dark bay or brown horse is out of the Storm Cat mare Seeking the Sky.
Ridden by red-hot Joe Talamo, Sahara Sky was three wide in the stretch when racing fifth before soaring home in the final eighth of a mile to get up in the final strides over Private Zone. Slight favorite Justin Phillip, one of three starters sent off at odds of 5-2, settled for third in the field of seven older sprinters.
Sahara Sky paid $45.20, $14.40, and $5 and topped a $167 exacta. Private Zone, the former Panamanian runner now competing for trainer Doug O'Neill, returned $4.40 and $3 with his fourth consecutive runner-up finish in stakes events. Justin Phillip paid $2.80.
Hollendorfer picked up his eighth win of the Santa Anita meet to move to the top of the track's trainer standings.
"We both thought that the two speed horses would hook up and maybe make a good pace for us," Hollendorfer said. "That's the key to winning a race like this. We had to have a little pace in front of us for that particular kind of horse, so we got lucky today and he came through for us."
Private Zone, the 120-pound co-top weight with Martin Pedroza aboard, dueled with Comma to the Top through an opening quarter mile of :21.50 before putting his head in front as they completed the half in :43.61.
Comma to the Top and Private Zone continued to battle until Private Zone began to inch away near the eighth pole. Justin Phillip challenged on the outside for Rafael Bejarano, but could not match strides late as Sahara Sky flew past the leaders on the outside under strong handling from Talamo.
"I was real confident. I know Jerry always has them nice and tight off the layoff," Talamo said. "He ran unbelievable. That was actually the closest he's ever run; I thought he was going to be 10 lengths further back than he was. He broke sharply, he put me right there, and I still had a lot of horse when I called on him."
Private Zone finished half a length better than Justin Phillip.
"It was like a Quarter Horse in there trying to burn me out (referring to Edwin Maldonado on Comma to the Top)," Pedroza said of the runner-up's trip. "My horse never could relax, he just kept seeing the other horse, wanted to go after him, and I didn't want to choke him back; it's only six furlongs."
It was 2 1/2 lengths to Comma to the Top, who was followed by Canonize and the Bob Baffert-trained duo of Drill and Apriority.
Sahara Sky registered his fifth victory in 13 lifetime races and extended his earnings to $236,680.
For an Equibase chart, click here.
SAHARA SKY WON AS A LONGSHOT IN THE PALO VERDES