01/31/2015 7:19PM

Avanzare much improved in Arcadia

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Benoit & Associates
Gary Stevens rides Avanzare to victory in the Grade 2 Arcadia.

ARCADIA, Calif. - When Avanzare worked five furlongs on dirt in 59 seconds under Gary Stevens last Tuesday at Santa Anita, the Hall of Fame jockey was left surprised and delightfully stunned.

 “I thought he worked in 1:01,” Stevens said.

Avanzare moved smoothly in the workout. The easy exercise led to his second stakes win in Saturday’s $200,500 Arcadia Stakes at a mile on turf. Always racing near the front, Avanzare ($13.80) had an ideal trip to win the Grade 2 Arcadia by 1 1/4 lengths over the millionaire Za Approval, a 3-1 shot.

For Stevens, the victory was the 4,999th of his career in North America. The rider long ago surpassed 5,000 career wins when international victories are included.

Stevens said Avanzare was comfortable racing behind pacesetter El Nino Terrible through the first six furlongs of the Arcadia. Avanzare took the lead in early stretch, led by two lengths with a furlong to go, and was a relatively easy winner.

Stevens said that the 5-year-old Avanzare felt like a different horse compared with his last start, a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Native Diver Stakes on the synthetic track at Del Mar on Nov. 29. Stevens rode Avanzare for the first time in the Native Diver.

“He’s still improving,” Stevens said. “He’s gained some confidence since the Native Diver.”

Za Approval, second in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Mile here, finished three-quarters of a length in front of Home Run Kitten, the runner-up in the Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile for 3-year-olds here on Dec. 26. Kaigun, the 6-5 favorite and the winner of the Grade 2 Seabiscuit Handicap at Del Mar on Nov. 28, finished fourth, followed by Edge of Reality, El Nino Terrible, and Baccelo.

Avanzare has won 6 of 12 starts and earned $385,180. A gelding by Grand Reward, Avanzare races for Donato Lanni and John Youngblood and is trained by Tom Proctor.

Avanzare won the Grade 3 Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park last August and was later third in the Grade 2 City of Hope Mile Stakes here in October.