Dismissed at 44-1 in the Grade II, the 4-year-old Lemon Drop Kid saved ground while racing close to the pace, angled outside approaching the stretch, collared leader Liberian Freighter with less than an eighth of a mile to run and easily withstood the late surge of 3-5 favorite Mr. Commons.
Well-traveled when in the barn of Neil Howard, the dark bay colt out of the Afternoon Deelites mare Tasha’s Delight arrived in California having lost six in a row.
He had finished on the board twice during that period in two graded races – including a third in the Grade I Jamaica Handicap last Oct. 8 at Belmont Park – but had not been better than fifth in his first three outings of 2012.
Completing the mile on turf in 1:33.37, Wilkinson paid $90.60, $18.20 and $8.20. The previous highest win price in the American was Takarian, who returned $64.20 when he scored the first of his two victories in a race that has been contested 73 times.
Now 5-for-18 lifetime, Wilkinson, who has competed at seven different tracks in five states, increased his earnings to $336,994.
Besides Belmont Park and Betfair Hollywood Park, the Kentucky bred has raced at Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Saratoga, Fair Grounds and Thistledown.
“I only got the horse five days ago, so all the credit has to go to Neil Howard,’’ said Mullins after his first American victory. “I trained (Tasha’s Delight) and she always tried hard. The trip was kind of what we wanted.
“(Gaylord) told me the horse needs to be close up and out of trouble. We let Marty know that and he did it perfectly. The first thing you notice about him is he’s a handsome horse. He does everything in the morning and loves his job.
Mullins added Wilkinson will be aimed for the $300,000 Grade I Shoemaker Mile June 30.
The win was also the first in the race for Pedroza and the veteran rider was quick to credit what he was told in the saddling paddock.
“In my handicapping it looked like he wanted to make one run,’’ said Pedroza. “When I came out to get instructions, everything changed. Jeff told me to warm him up without a pony and get him to feel loose and aggressive.
“He told me to send him leaving there and sit behind the first flight. I just fell right into a perfect trip. If I had done what I wanted to do, sit and make one run, I probably wouldn’t have won. Believe me, my plan was different.’’
The loss was the second in a row for Mr. Commons, who paid $2.40 and $2.10, as the odds-on choice. He was also the runner-up when 4-5 in the Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile March 3 at Santa Anita.
“I thought he ran really well from the 10 post,’’ said Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, referring to Mr. Commons’ draw. “You’d like to win it, but he’ll get a lot out of this race and move forward.
A five-time winner over the Betfair Hollywood Park grass, Liberian Freighter put away pace rival and 4-1 second choice Compari entering the stretch, but weakened a bit late in his first start since he trailed in the Grade I Shoemaker Mile last July 2. The show price on the California bred gelding, who finished a half-length behind Mr. Commons, was $5.40.
Compari wound up fourth and he was followed by Mobilized, Tigah, Calimonco, Great Warrior and Soul Candy. Barney Rebel and Venomous were scratched earlier in the day.
Siempre Mio, who was scheduled to make his first start for new owners – Los Angeles Lakers stars Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol – was scratched from Saturday’s sixth race by trainer Doug O’Neill.
The 4-year-old gelding, who had drawn the inside post in the $54,000 allowance, was “coughing,’’ according to O’Neill, so the decision was made to scratch.
Bryant and Gasol each purchased a 25% interest at a Lakers Foundation charity auction April 24. The California bred is also owned by Mark Verge’s Westsiderentals.com and Chris Quinn.
During The Inside Scoop, the weekly paddock show at Betfair Hollywood Park hosted by Kurt Hoover, O’Neill indicated Siempre Mio, who has two wins in five starts, could be back in action within two weeks.
Racing resumes Sunday. Post time is 1 p.m. Track gates will open at 9:55 a.m. for simulcasts.
The feature attraction – the $70,000 Great Lady M. Stakes – is the eighth of nine races.
Mizdirection, who is owned in part by television and radio personality Jim Rome, heads the field of eight fillies and mares in the six furlong turf affair.
A 4-year-old gray daughter of Mizzen Mast, Mizdirection has won four in a row for trainer Mike Puype.