Monday, August 11, 2008
AZUL LEON INHERITS WIN IN BEST PAL STAKES
Azul Leon, the 9-5 favorite under leading rider Rafael Bejarano, remained unbeaten in three races, but only after Del Mar's board of stewards disqualified original winner Kelly Leak for causing stretch interference in Sunday's featured $150,000 Best Pal Stakes for two-year-olds.
Kelly Leak, with Victor Espinoza aboard, nosed out Azul Leon in the final strides of a lengthy stretch battle, with second choice Coronet of a Baron a close-up third, less than a length behind Azul Leon and almost two lengths ahead of longshot Charlie's Moment.
Kelly Leak, who went postward at 6-1 in the field of eight juveniles, was placed fourth, behind Azul Leon, Coronet of a Baron and Charlie's Moment, in that order. Final time for the 6 1/2 furlongs was 1:16.73.
Azul Leon, owned by Joseph Lacombe Stable, Inc., and trained by Doug O'Neill, went postward a slight favorite and returned $5.60, $3 and $2.40 while almost doubling his earnings to $182,400 with the Best Pal's winning purse of $90,000.
Coronet of a Baron, who was piloted by Corey Nakatani, paid $3.40 and $2.80, while Charlie's Moment returned $4.80 to show.
Azul Leon, a son of Lion Heart, won the Hollywood Juvenile Championship in early July at Hollywood Park after a maiden win at the Inglewood, Calif. track.
The Best Pal Stakes is the final steppingstone to the $250,000 Del Mar Futurity at seven furlongs on closing day of the season, Wednesday, Sept. 3.
Bejarano won the final three races of the afternoon, winning the seventh race on Prince Rexy, an Australian-bred four-year-old who made an impressive American debut, and Tommys Luck, victor in the ninth and final event.
Sunday's attendance was 15,387.
Best Pal Stakes
RAFAEL BEJARANO (Azul Leon) -- "He (Victor Espinoza on Kelly Leak, who crossed the line first) was coming in on me. He cost me the race. He was watching me and first I tried to go out, then I had to go in. My horse deserved to win. He (Azul Leon) showed me something today. He gave me two great runs. He made a big move for me from the back on the turn, then when I got stopped he came back and made another move for me. He's a nice horse and he's going to be a good one."
COREY NAKATANI (Coronet of a Baron) -- "Those two outside horses (Kelly Leak and Azul Leon) came down and bumped me. No doubt about that. I was just trying to ride my horse and hold my ground. They came and got me. It cost me."
JON COURT (Charlie's Moment) -- "That was a dangerous situation. This colt has some kick if you can turn the whip up and get after him on both sides. I was trying to stay clear of Corey (Nakatani on Coronet of a Baron on his inside) and trying to ride my horse. But I couldn't. My horse was just starting to roll and then I couldn't do anything."
VICTOR ESPINOZA (Kelly Leak) -- "I can't agree (with the stewards' decision). Not at all. It's not my fault if the other jockey can't ride his horse. He just happened to be in the wrong place. I was riding my horse and riding my race. That's all."
DOUG O'NEILL (Azul Leon) -- "It definitely looked like the horse had to alter his course. Rafael [jockey Rafael Bejarano] wanted to go outside but he felt like that had been taken away from him, so he bounced inside and it got pretty tight in there. You could tell the stewards were scratching their heads over this. We love to win, but I hate to win under these circumstances. It was tough for the horses, too. There were four gutsy 2-year-olds going for the wire. I feel if Azul Leon had clear sailing he could have gotten up [to win]."
MICHAEL MACHOWSKY (Kelly Leak) -- "It's part of racing. I may skip the Futurity because I think these races are too close together -- to ask him to come back in three weeks and then three and a half weeks to the Norfolk and then three more to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The Breeders' Cup has always been our goal."
FRACTIONS: :23.07 :46.21 1:10.48 1:16.73
The stakes win was the fourth of the meet for Rafael Bejarano and his fifth overall at Del Mar.
(Bejarano also was moved up in a stakes race at the Hollywood Park meet this spring when Bel Air Sizzle was put first after finishing behind Gambler's Justice in the Melair on April 27.)
The stakes win was the first of the meet for Doug O'Neill, but his 11th overall at Del Mar. This is the first time he's won the Best Pal.
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