01/28/2017 7:30PM

Ashleyluvssugar takes command late, wins Cal Cup Turf Classic

Benoit & Associates
Ashleyluvssugar, left, paid $4.00 in winning the California Cup Turf Classic.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The $250,345 California Cup Turf Classic at Santa Anita on Saturday was a meet-and-greet session for race winner Ashleyluvssugar and his new jockey, Flavien Prat.

Prat replaced the injured Gary Stevens on the veteran gelding and rode Ashleyluvssugar to perfection in the turf race at 1 1/8 miles.

Ashleyluvssugar stalked pacesetter What a View to early stretch and took command in the final furlong to win his third stakes in his last five starts. Stevens was the regular rider of Ashleyluvssugar in 2016, but is sidelined after undergoing a hip replacement operation in late December. It is not clear how long Stevens will be away from racing.

For now, Prat has the mount, and he was left with a favorable impression of Ashleyluvssugar.

“He’s even better farther,” Prat said. “I couldn’t stop him after the race.”

The Cal Cup Classic, the top stakes for older horses on Saturday’s five-stakes program, was a drop in class for Ashleyluvssugar, his first start against state-breds since a third in the Crystal Water Stakes last June, his first race of 2016.

Ashleyluvssugar ran in five consecutive Grade 1 or Grade 2 races through the end of 2016, a span that included wins in the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap in August and Grade 2 John Henry Turf Championship at Santa Anita in October, plus a fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf here Nov. 5.

Ashleyluvssugar was second in the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar on Nov. 25 in his final start of 2016.

In the Cal Cup Turf Classic, Ashleyluvssugar ($4) was timed in 1:46.36. What a View, who won the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile last March, set an early pace of 23.77 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 47.58 for a half-mile, with Ashleyluvssugar racing in third.

Ashlyluvssugar moved to the outside of What a View on the turn. The two dueled briefly in the stretch before Ashleyluvssugar took the lead.

“That was a nice easy lead that What a View got,” winning trainer Peter Eurton said. “I didn’t think we’d get by him for a minute there, but Ashley’s got a lot of class.”

Prat said the final furlong provided yet another lesson on Ashleyluvssugar’s quirks.

“Once he got the lead, he hung a little bit,” Prat said.

Ward ‘n Jerry, a 69-1 shot, finished third in his stakes debut. He Will finished fourth, followed by Patriots Rule, Temple Keys, Poshsky, Tamarando, and Ralis.

Ashleyluvssugar races for the partnership of Sharon Alesia, Bran Jam Stable, and Joe Ciaglia. A 6-year-old by Game Plan, Ashleyluvssugar has won 9 of 20 starts and has earned $1,145,004.

Eurton saw the race as a steppingstone for a return to graded stakes for Ashleyluvssugar, and a chance for Prat to learn more.

“He had a perfect ride,” Eurton said. “They got to know each other.”