07/27/2013 9:19PM

Del Mar: Kettle Corn foils Paynter in deep stretch of San Diego

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Benoit & Associates
Kettle Corn, scratched out of the Cougar II Handicap on Friday, rallies to win the biggest race of his career in the San Diego Handicap.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Kettle Corn, a 6-year-old who has often been overshadowed by his rival Game On Dude in the last 18 months, won the biggest race of his career in Saturday’s $200,250 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, catching the heavily favored, and sentimental choice, Paynter in the final furlong.

Paynter, the winner of the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in July 2012 who later survived severe bouts with laminitis and colitis, finished second after leading in the stretch. Sent off at 3-5, Paynter looked like winner in the final furlong but could not hold off Kettle Corn, losing by a half-length.

The San Diego was Paynter’s second start since returning to training last winter. A 4-year-old, Paynter won an allowance race at Betfair Hollywood Park in June.

Jockey Rafael Bejarano said that Paynter struggled over the Polytrack synthetic surface.

“I felt like I had a ton of horse,” Bejarano said. “He didn’t feel comfortable on the track.”

Kettle Corn ($9.20) ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.83 under jockey Victor Espinoza. A horse by Candy Ride, Kettle Corn races for Lee and Susan Searing and is trained by John Sadler.

Espinoza had Kettle Corn last in the field of six for the first six furlongs, well off the pace of 23.41 and 47.28 seconds set by the 34-1 outsider Batti Man. On the turn, Espinoza moved Kettle Corn to the inside and then angled him three-wide for the stretch run.

Paynter, second to Batti Man to the turn, took the lead in the stretch. Paynter carried top weight of 122 pounds, four more than Kettle Corn.

Batti Man finished third, followed by Chief Havoc, Liaison, and Clubhouse Ride.

The Grade 2 San Diego Handicap was Kettle Corn’s first stakes win since the Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap at Betfair Hollywood Park in December 2011. Last month, Kettle Corn was second to Game on Dude in the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup. Kettle Corn finished second or third behind Game On Dude in three other stakes from early June through December 2012.

“He’s been a very good honest horse,” Sadler said. “He’s a blue-collar horse and runs his race every time. He deserves to win one of these big ones. He’s good on this track.”

Kettle Corn has won 8 of 24 starts and $653,111.

Sadler had Kettle Corn entered for Friday’s Cougar II Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on the synthetic main track, but scratched from that race in favor of a start in the San Diego. Sadler said after the San Diego that Kettle Corn is a candidate for the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 25, a race expected to draw Game On Dude.

“I think a mile and a half is tough on them,” Sadler said, explaining the scratch. “If he runs twice at this meeting, I wanted to go in the shorter race” this weekend.