03/21/2015 7:15PM

Ashleyluvssugar handles class rise in San Luis Rey

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Benoit & Associates
Ashleyluvssugar, ridden by Gary Stevens, wins his graded stakes debut in the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Ashleyluvssugar won his first stakes in Saturday’s $200,750 San Luis Rey Stakes at Santa Anita, the gelding’s first start at 1 1/2 miles and in a graded stakes.

The Grade 2 San Luis Rey Stakes was Ashleyluvssugar’s second start in a stakes, preceded by a third in the I’m Smokin Stakes for California-bred sprinters at Del Mar in September 2013. A lot has changed in Ashleyluvssugar’s career since then.

Trainer Peter Eurton has focused on turf races at a mile or farther in recent months and watched Ashleyluvssugar win three of his last four starts. The loss in that span was a sixth-place finish in an optional claimer on Jan. 11, a race scheduled for turf but switched to the main track because of wet conditions.

Ashleyluvssugar scored a mild upset in the San Luis Rey.. Ridden by Gary Stevens, Ashleyluvssugar ($13.20) repelled a threat from 3-5 favorite Finnegans Wake in early stretch to win by 2 1/4 lengths in 2:25.78.

Stevens rode Ashleyluvssugar for the first time in the San Luis Rey, inheriting the mount from Mike Smith, who rode at Turfway Park in Kentucky on Saturday.

“I was quietly confident if I got him to relax,” Stevens said. “I knew the form of his races were good.”€

Stevens had Ashleyluvssugar in fifth place in a field of eight for the first mile. Ashleyluvssugar rallied three wide on the final turn to reach contention, closely tracked by Finnegans Wake to his outside. Finnegans Wake was sixth early and seemed poised to win the race turning into the stretch.

But jockey Victor Espinoza said Finnegans Wake was not performing in the same fashion as he had in three previous starts, all wins in Grade 2 races.

“He was a little flat all the way,” Espinoza said. “He wasn’t really running.”€

Finnegans Wake led for a few strides in early stretch before Ashleyluvssugar took a head advantage with a furlong remaining. Through the final sixteenth, Ashleyluvssugar pulled away. Stevens said the gelding’s early patience was the difference late.

“He switched off nicely for me,” he said. “I was loaded going into the turn. He was headed and he was tough.”€

Finnegans Wake held second, finishing 1 1/4 lengths in front of Power Foot, who was followed by Play Hard to Get, Buymeabond, Raise Your Gaze, Diamond Bachelor, and Joes Blazing Aaron.

Ashleyluvssugar races for the longtime partnership of Sharon Alesia, Bran Jam Stable, and Ciaglia Racing, who bred the 4-year-old by Game Plan. Ashleyluvssugar has won 5 of 10 starts and earned $335,504.

Eurton said after the race that Ashleyluvssugar will make his next start in the $150,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap at about 1 3/4 miles on turf on June 28.