DEL MAR, Calif. — Hunt is bound for the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar on Nov. 4 after winning the track’s premier turf marathon in Saturday’s Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap.
The $252,760 Del Mar Handicap at 1 3/8 miles on turf was a stamina test for Hunt, his first try at the distance. The BC Turf is run at 1 1/2 miles. The winner of the Del Mar Handicap receives a fees-paid berth to the BC Turf through the Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In program.
Ridden by Flavien Prat, Hunt ($8.80) closed from fourth in the final quarter-mile to win his second consecutive graded stakes Saturday. Hunt won the Eddie Read Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on turf July 22, his first graded stakes.
In the Del Mar Handicap, Prat kept Hunt in fourth for the first mile and rallied on the inside in the final furlong to win by three-quarters of a length over Itsinthepost, the 5-2 favorite. Flamboyant, an 18-1 shot, finished third, a head behind Itsinthepost.
Itsinthepost was seventh with a furlong remaining and unleashed a furious rally that fell short.
“He was way the best horse, way the best,” said jockey Tyler Baze, who rode Itsinthepost. “I had to wait, wait, wait on the turn. If I could have gotten him out, we would have come running.”
Prime Attraction finished fourth, followed by Inordinate, Ashleyluvssugar, Up With the Birds, He Will, Editore, Big John B, Liam the Charmer, Monster Bea, and Mr. Roary.
Hunt was timed in 2:14.93. Prat said the key to the stretch run was following Gary Stevens on Ashleyluvssugar, who won the 2016 Del Mar Handicap.
“When I asked him, he had a good kick,” Prat said. “I wanted to follow Gary Stevens because he had one of the best horses in the race.”
Stevens said after the race that his saddle slipped on Ashleyluvssugar, who was beaten about two lengths.
Hunt was never farther than three lengths off the lead, through a slow pace of 24.40 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 49.90 for a half-mile.
“It worked out well,” Prat said. “I wasn’t sure of the distance and the pace was slow. I was able to stay close to the pace.”
Hunt, a 5-year-old Irish-bred gelding by Dark Angel, races for Michael House and trainer Phil D’Amato. The Del Mar Handicap and Eddie Read Stakes are the only graded stakes wins for Hunt, who has won 7 of 23 starts and earned $548,419.