INGLEWOOD, Calif. (June 6, 2009) — Midships, ridden patiently by Victor Espinoza, won his third straight graded stakes race by repelling two challenges in the stretch in Saturday’s $300,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap at Hollywood Park.
The victory gave Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel a record-tying seventh victory in the Grade I event, equaling the mark set by the legendary Whittingham between 1970 and 1987 when the 1 ¼-mile turf race was known as the Hollywood Turf Handicap.
Midships, front-running winner of the San Luis Rey Handicap and the San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap in his two previous starts, was restrained by Espinoza as he settled into second behind pacesetter Liquidity.
Espinoza made his bid rounding the far turn and Midships gained command early in the stretch, turned back a challenge from defending champion Artiste Royal, then fought off Globetrotter in the final sixteenth to win by a half-length.
“I just ignored Liquidity,” Espinoza said. “I knew he was the longshot in the race and the distance was probably a little bit too far for him. I was worrying only about my horse. He went wire-to-wire the last couple of times, but I wanted to try something new today. I didn’t want to get too far back, but I didn’t want to use him too much on the backstretch. He was comfortable all the way around and the trip worked out perfect.”
Midships, a 4-year-old son of Mizzen Mast, was timed in 2:00.51 under an impost of 118 pounds. Globetrotter finished 1 ½ lengths clear of Artiste Royal with 119-pound high weight Madeo finishing fourth in the field of six older horses.
Frankel, Hollywood Park’s leading trainer all-time with 952 wins, had to wait for the Whittingham to record his first win at the current meeting. The stable had four seconds and five thirds from 20 starters entering the Whittingham. The stakes win was the 149th for Frankel at Hollywood Park, second to Whittingham’s seemingly insurmountable total of 222.
“Victor said after the second turn he was relaxed and he had a lot in the tank,” said Humberto Ascanio, assistant to Frankel. “Victor told me that Liquidity was going to lead and if that didn’t happen he was going to. He did a good job. Victor has ridden him two or three times, so Bobby didn’t say much, he (Victor) knew what to do.”
Midships, a homebred owned by Juddmonte Farms, improved his record to five-for-15 while earning $180,000 to increase his bankroll to $525,830. He began his career in Europe — finished third in the 2008 Hollywood Derby in his first U.S. start — and is now three-for-five in this country.
Midships paid $5, 3.40 and $2.20. Globetrotter returned $5.20 and $3.60, while the show payoff on Artiste Royal was $2.80.
“I had a great trip,” jockey Joe Talamo said of the runner-up. “They were going kind of slow so naturally he was up close. He was running real good at the end and it was a good step up for him. I thought I had a shot at the eighth pole to get him, but you can’t take anything away from Midships. Maybe an extra sixteenth and we would have gotten him.”
Noble Court, meanwhile, closed from ninth on the turn for home under Joel Rosario to score a half-length victory over 24-1 shot Rush With Thunder in the $100,000 Ack Ack Handicap.
The co-high weight at 120 pounds, Noble Court capitalized on a sizzling pace set by Luhuk’s Dancer while covering seven furlongs on Cushion Track in 1:27.32 to remain perfect in two 2009 starts. Star Nicholas finished third as 9-5 favorite Liberian Freighter, who looked like a winner at the sixteenth pole, had to settle for fourth in the field of 11 older horses.
Noble Court, the second choice at 7-2, paid $9.20 while banking $60,000 to boost his earnings to $335,778. The 5-year-old horse has now won six of 11 starts.
Tuscan Evening, scratched from the Gamely last week to run in the $70,000 Redondo Beach, scored a front-running victory under Rafael Bejarano and is headed to the $250,000 Royal Heroine Mile here July 11.
“We figured if we could run good in this race we would be able to run in the Royal Heroine,” said Dan Ward, assistant to Jerry Hollendorfer, who was in Elmont, N.Y., where Chocolate Candy finished ninth in the Belmont Stakes. “It was a big test. If we couldn’t run with these then we couldn’t run in that race.”
Tuscan Evening set a stakes record of 1:33.78 for one mile on turf, paying $6.20 as the 2-1 favorite in the field of nine fillies and mares. Gotta Have Her finished second and Charming Legacy was third.
Racing resumes Sunday at Hollywood Park with post time at 1 p.m.
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