06/05/2009 11:00PM

Midships wins first Grade 1 in Whittingham


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - It has taken 11 weeks for Midships to become the undisputed leader of the California turf male division.

After winning two Grade 2 stakes at Santa Anita - the San Luis Rey and San Juan Capistrano handicaps - Midships won the most prestigious race of his career in Saturday's $300,000 Charles Whittingham Handicap at Hollywood Park. The Whittingham was Midships's first career victory in a Grade 1.

"He's just getting better and better," said Humberto Ascanio, trainer Bobby Frankel's top assistant in California.

Midships ($5) won the Whittingham by a half-length over a fast-closing Globetrotter. Artiste Royal, the winner of the 2008 Whittingham, finished third, beaten two lengths in the field of six.

Midships, who was sent off favored, stalked pacesetter Liquidity through a slow pace of 25.44 and 49.15 seconds, trailing by as little as a length and as much as 2 1/2 lengths on the backstretch. Jockey Victor Espinoza guided Midships closer to the front on the final turn and took the lead in early stretch.

"Victor said he was a little keen on the first turn and on the second turn was more relaxed," Ascanio said. "They went slow and that's why he had such a hold. He had a lot in the tank."

Owned by Juddmonte Farms, Midships, a 4-year-old colt by Mizzen Mast, has won 5 of 15 starts and $525,830. In England, he had two wins in 10 starts.

Noble Court ends graded drought

Noble Court won his first graded takes in more than two years in Saturday's $100,000 Ack Ack Handicap, benefiting from an ideal trip.

Ridden by Joel Rosario, Noble Court ($9.20) closed from 10th in a field of 11 to win by a half-length over 24-1 Rush With Thunder, who was last for the first half-mile. Star Nicholas, an 8-1 shot, finished third, a length behind the winner.

Liberian Freighter, the 9-5 favorite who was seeking his third consecutive stakes win, could only manage fourth after leading in midstretch.

Noble Court ran 7 1/2 furlongs in 1:27.32. He did not reach contention until the final furlong. The longshots Luhuk's Dancer and Mutak Gold set a quick pace of 21.66 and 43.54 seconds, but were out of contention by the eighth pole. They eventually finished 10th and 11th.

Noble Court has won 6 of 11 starts and $335,778 for Joy Ride Racing and trainer John Sadler. The Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap was his third career stakes win. A 5-year-old horse by Doneraile Court, Noble Court won the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes in February 2007 and the Joe Hernandez Stakes on the hillside turf course earlier this year.