08/13/2011 8:22PM

Del Mar: Burns gets rail-hugging ride to win La Jolla Handicap

Benoit & Associates
Burns, ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, overtakes Lil Bit of Fun, to capture the La Jolla Handicap.

DEL MAR, Calif.- Jockey Patrick Valenzuela climbed off the gelding Burns after a runner-up finish in the Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar on July 20 frustrated after a wide trip. He knew then he wanted another chance.

Valenzuela’s next opportunity with Burns occurred in Saturday’s $150,000 La Jolla Handicap and this time the 48-year-old jockey chose to keep his mount on the rail, closing from third in the final furlong to win the Grade 2 race for 3-year-olds over 1 1/16 miles on turf by a neck over Lil Bit O’Fun.

Burns ($9.20) was timed in 1:42.36. Thirtyfirststreet finished third, followed by even-money favorite Midnight Interlude, Surrey Star, and Fort Hastings. Midnight Interlude, the winner of the Santa Anita Derby in April, encountered trouble in the final furlong when racing in traffic and was beaten 1 1/4 lengths.

The win was the first victory of the Del Mar meeting for trainer Barry Abrams with his 28th starter. Abrams, who is undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatment for throat cancer, was in the winner’s circle.

“This is a good horse and he finally got a good trip,” Abrams said, his voice barely above a whisper. “He’s just getting better and better.”

Valenzuela has ridden Burns three times and has now won twice on the California-bred gelding by Unusual Heat. The first victory came in an optional claimer at Hollywood Park on June 25. In the one-mile Oceanside Stakes, Burns was beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Mr Commons.

“He ran a good race last time and I lost a lot of ground,” Valenzuela said. “Today was farther and he loved the distance.”

There was an anxious moment for Valenzuela in the stretch when the racing room disappeared briefly. When space was available, Burns accelerated.

“Passing the sixteenth pole, it opened up again and he responded gamely,” Valenzuela said.

Burns has won 4 of 12 starts for owner-breeders Sonny Pais and Madeline Auerbach. Earlier this year, Burns was fifth in the Snow Chief Stakes and fourth in the Alydar Stakes during the Hollywood Park meeting. Burns, a gelding, has earned $245,838.