08/08/2010 8:30PM

J P's Gusto stays on a roll in Best Pal

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Benoit & Associates
J P's Gusto worked six furlongs in 1:13.60 at Oaklawn for the Rebel Stakes there.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - J P's Gusto is proving impossible to beat in sprint stakes for 2-year-olds in Southern California this summer.

Sunday, J P's Gusto won his third consecutive stakes in the $150,000 Best Pal Stakes over 6 1/2 furlongs, a prep to the $250,000 Del Mar Futurity over seven furlongs Sept. 8.

Ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, who scored his first stakes win at Del Mar in five years, J P's Gusto ($6.80) led throughout the Grade 2 Best Pal, holding off a late threat from 3-2 favorite Sway Away to win by a half-length in 1:16.61. Western Mood finished third, followed by Comma to the Top and Minutesandtouches in the field of five.

The style of the win left trainer David Hofmans eager for the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. He said he is expecting J P's Gusto to thrive in that race over Del Mar’s Polytrack synthetic surface.

"We're right on schedule," Hofmans said. "I think he deserves a shot at seven-eighths. He loves this track. He was just cruising. He skips over this track, and not all horses do that."

Valenzuela had J P's Gusto in front through an early pace of 22.58 and 46.31 seconds, leading by a half-length over Comma to the Top and then Minutesandtouches. The tactics were not part of the plan, Hofmans said.

"We weren't planning on being on the lead," he said.

Sway Away was fifth for the first half-mile and closed well to finish second, 3 1/2 lengths in front of Western Mood.

"Pat said he felt that other horse coming to him, and he had another gear," Hofmans said.

Owned by Gem, Inc., J P's Gusto has won 3 of 4 starts and $187,360. After finishing a troubled sixth in a maiden race May 9, J P's Gusto won the Willard Proctor Memorial Stakes over 5 1/2 furlongs May 31 and the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile Championship over six furlongs July 5.

The success is welcome, but the ridgling's antics around the barn keep Hofmans and his staff on alert.

"We have to keep him from killing me, because he's a tough horse to be around, day-to-day," Hofmans said.