INGLEWOOD, Calif. (June 14, 2009) — Coco Belle scored a front-running victory under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith in Sunday’s $72,800 Desert Stormer Handicap at Hollywood Park as 1-2 favorite Indian Blessing finished out of the money.
Show payoffs dwarfed win and place payoffs with the upset and fourth-place finish of two-time champion Indian Blessing who was running for the first time since finishing second March 28 in the Dubai Golden Shaheen. Of the $522,293 in the show pool, $484,538 was bet on Indian Blessing.
Coco Belle, third choice at 8-1 in the field of seven fillies and mares, paid $18.60, $7.60 and $37.60. Silver Swallow, 3 3/4 lengths back in second under Garrett Gomez, returned $8.20 and $40.60. The show payoff on third-place finisher She’s Cheeky — who beat Indian Blessing by three-quarters of a length with Alex Solis up — was $43.60.
Coco Belle covered six furlongs on Cushion Track in 1:08.35 while winning her second straight race to improve her record to seven-for-23. The winner’s share of $43,200 boosted the 5-year-old mare’s earnings to $450,113.
“The reason you don’t scratch is the history of those horses coming back from Dubai is not great,” said John Sadler, trainer of Coco Belle. “You don’t scratch. Am I surprised to win? Sure. My filly is in good form again. She’s had a nice win over the track and the way she ran today I might even run her in the A Gleam (on July 18). We wanted to be up front, but we were surprised the other mare didn’t run very well.”
Smith, who rode 2005 Desert Stomer winner Puxa Saco, is looking forward to the future with Coco Belle.
“I wasn’t surprised at the easy lead, I was surprised how great she ran,” he said. “I knew she was good, but she ran incredible today. She’s just coming into herself right now and it’s certainly a good time with Del Mar coming up. She loves that track, too. She’s getting better and better and I’m really excited about her.”
Indian Blessing entered the Desert Stormer with nine wins and four seconds in 13 starts for earnings of $2,837,200. She was champion 2-year-old filly in 2007 and champion female sprinter in 2008.
“I knew I was in trouble passing the three-eighths pole,” jockey Victor Espinoza said. “By the middle of the turn she was a little bit empty. She was slipping around and really couldn’t handle the track all that well. It was her first time back, but I really think it was more a case of not handling the track. She’s fine and after this race I think we’ll be okay.”
Trainer Bob Baffert will now send her East. She won the Frizette at Belmont and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Monmouth Park in 2007 and the Prioress and Gallant Bloom at Belmont and the Test at Saratoga in 2008.
“She just wasn’t getting over it like she usually can — it wasn’t her,” he said. “Usually she cruises up there pretty easy and just kicks on. Today at the top of the stretch I could tell he (Espinoza) was out of horse.
“You never know how they’re going to react after Dubai, that’s why I wanted to run her here,” Baffert added. “Maybe she needs a little more time. We’ll just regroup and send her back East where she loves to be. She’s going to New York anyways — I just wanted to try her out here one time. She won’t run here. I wanted to keep her here if I could, but it didn’t work out.”
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