12/19/2015 8:05PM

Ibaka finds home on turf by winning Buddy Diliberto Memorial

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Alexander Barkoff/Hodges Photography
Ibaka, with Richard Eramia aboard, is now 2 for 2 since moving to turf after taking the Buddy Diliberto Memorial.

NEW ORLEANS – Ibaka overcame a troubled start and traffic in midstretch, running his turf record to 2 for 2  by winning the $60,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial Handicap on Saturday at Fair Grounds.

Ibaka bobbled at the start and was squeezed between horses, causing Richard Eramia to take back well off the early speed, and, rallying up the fence in the homestretch, his path was shut off and Eramia had to swing around rivals. No matter – Ibaka mowed down Blarp to win by three-quarters of a length, looking like a horse who has found a home on grass.

“I wanted to be right behind the speed, but he’s a nice horse and he did everything like a nice horse,” said Eramia.

Oklahoma-bred Ibaka made his first 14 starts on dirt, but trainer Bret Calhoun, seeking the right spot on a statebred stakes card Oct. 16 at Remington Park, gave Ibaka a shot in a grass route. At 21-1 and light on fitness for his second start back from a long layoff, he set a contested pace and drew off to win by two lengths. Calhoun and owner-breeder Doug Wall wanted to run Ibaka in a Fair Grounds allowance race earlier this meet, but the 4-year-old gelding developed an abscess that cost him that start, and Calhoun trained him into the Diliberto.

Whatever the preparation, it worked fine, and even after the troubled start, Calhoun liked what he saw unfolding on the track, as 30-1 shot He’s Dann Good hooked favored Regally Ready on the lead and pressed him into a taxing 47.81-second  half-mile split. Regally Ready shook off his pace rival around the far turn and opened up, but by then the damage was done. Blarp made the first solid move and appeared to be on his way to victory before the eighth pole, but, once extricated from traffic, it was Ibaka who had the best late turn of foot.

“We thought he had some grass pedigree, and being out of conditions, he had to move forward somewhere to beat the better horses,” said Calhoun. “He could be better than we’ve seen. He hasn’t had a consistent training schedule.”

Ibaka, bet heavily late, paid $15 to win and ran about 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:46.48 with the rail out at 22 feet. Blarp was 2 1/4 lengths better than Potomac River, who was followed by Lewis Vale, Lockout, Regally Ready, and He’s Dann Good.

Ibaka, by Uncle Abbie, won for the eighth time in 16 starts. Calhoun said he is a likely runner in the Colonel E.R. Bradley, another turf-route stakes here on Jan. 16.

Cash Control shines in Tiffany Lass

Cash Control’s third straight win was her first in a stakes race, and after easily beating six rivals in the $50,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes, Cash Control looks ready for another step up in class.

Second outside Tiz Lately the first furlong, outside-drawn Cash Control wanted the lead around the first turn, and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan gave it to her.

“She was very determined wanting to go, so I dropped my hands and let her do her thing,” said Bridgmohan.

Cash Control knew what she was doing. She led through a half-mile in 48.30, six furlongs in 1:12.86, opened a clear lead at the top of the stretch, and ran on to a 2 1/2- length victory over Tiz Lately. Tiz Lately came out in deep stretch, bumping three horses to her outside, and was disqualified to seventh. Midnight Sweetie was elevated from third to second, giving trainer Brad Cox a sweep of the exacta.

Cash Control, a Klein family homebred by Pioneerof the Nile and out of the Klein-raced mare Hidden Assets, was a promising 3-year-old in early 2014, when she won a two-turn allowance race at Fair Grounds and went on to finish fourth in the Grade 3 Eight Belles. Cash Control was injured and didn’t race from May 2014 to July 2015, and after a poor comeback run she began finding her form again, and almost certainly ran the best race of her career Saturday.

She paid $4.80 to win as the favorite and ran one mile and 70 yards in 1:43.07.