11/28/2014 7:35PM

Kaigun breaks through in Seabiscuit Handicap

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Benoit and Associates
Kaigun, ridden by Corey Nakatani, scores by three-quarters of a length in the Seabiscuit Handicap on Friday.

DEL MAR, Calif. – If trainer Mark Casse was looking for a good omen for the weekend at Del Mar, he found it Friday.

One day before he, owner Gary Barber, and jockey Corey Nakatani try to stop California Chrome in the Hollywood Derby with Lexie Lou, they teamed to win the Grade 2, $250,750 Seabiscuit Handicap with an old barn favorite, Kaigun.

Kaigun ($9), shuffled back to last in the eight-horse field midway on the final turn, unleashed a sharp turn of foot coming off the bend, overtook the favored Tom’s Tribute in deep stretch, and held safe the belated run of Za Approval to win by three-quarters of a length in the 1 1/16-mile grass race for older horses.

Za Approval finished second, a half-length in front of Tom’s Tribute. Mr. Commons was fourth and was followed by Big Bane Theory, Pure Tactics, Skyring, and Lil Bit O’Fun.

Both Avanzare and Boozer were scratched from the Seabiscuit, which was known as the Citation when it was run at Hollywood Park.

Kaigun was timed in 1:41.38 on the firm course.

A 4-year-old gelding, Kaigun had won just twice in 10 starts this year but had been facing the best grass runners around. He ran against Wise Dan three times earlier this year – including a second-place finish in the Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland – and most recently was 10th of 14 in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. This was his first start at Del Mar, over whose turf course he had worked brilliantly last Sunday.

Casse said he was surprised that Kaigun was as far back as he was, saying he “wasn’t sure he was going to kick in the way he did.”

“But then he got to the lead and pricked his ears,” Casse said. “He won with a little something left.”

Kaigun has won five times in 18 starts. His first-prize money Friday of $150,000 brought his career total to $964,220. He is owned by a partnership that includes Barber, Casse’s wife, Tina, and Harvey Swartz.

This is Casse’s first year in California. He came out for the Del Mar summer meet and has kept a string here. He will remain here through the winter at Santa Anita.

“I used to hear all the time, ‘He only wins in Canada,’ ” said Casse, a multiple winner of Canada’s Sovereign Award for champion trainer. “I wanted to show we could do it anywhere.”