10/05/2008 12:00AM

Mr. Chairman catches Romance Is Diane


ARCADIA, Calif. - Two years ago, Mr. Chairman was third in the California Cup Starter Handicap, one of the least consequential events on the annual showcase for statebreds. Sunday, he was the star of the card at Santa Anita.

Winning the biggest race of his career, Mr. Chairman outfinished the filly Romance Is Diane to win the $250,000 California Cup Classic by a head. Ridden by a jubilant Michael Baze, Mr. Chairman ($8.40) ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.93 to record his first stakes win.

Owned by the Great Friends partnership and trained by Doug O’Neill, Mr. Chairman was fifth until early stretch when Baze pulled him to the outside, four-wide. Mr. Chairman was a length behind Romance Is Diane with a furlong remaining and slowly closed the gap.

“The last sixteenth he just took off,” Baze said.

Romance Is Diane, a Grade 1 winner at 2 and the 8-5 favorite, finished a length in front of Add Heat in the field of eight.

Mr. Chairman, who is by Unusual Heat, has won 5 of 12 starts and $338,578.

Mile: Swift Winds by a length

Three horses led in the final furlong of the $175,000 California Cup Mile, with the last of them, Swift Winds, prevailing in an upset.

Third in the 2007 Cal Cup Mile, Swift Winds ($24.20) ran down 4-5 favorite Bold Chieftain in the final strides to win the turf race by a length in 1:33.84. Bold Chieftain held second, finishing a length in front of Liberian Freighter, who took the lead from pacesetter Comoros in early stretch.

Swift Winds was last of seven early. Jockey Alonso Quinonez guided Swift Winds to the outside in early stretch before the 5-year-old gelding by King of the Hunt found his best stride. “I thought it would be tough to catch the favorite,” said trainer Victor Garcia.

Owned by breeder Jack Burk, Swift Winds won his third consecutive race in the Cal Cup Mile. Swift Winds was trained by Garcia’s father, Juan, until late July when the elder Garcia retired.

Distaff: Lightmyfirebaby catches longshot

The hillside turf course continues to provide highlights in the career of Lightmyfirebaby.

In the spring, Lightmyfirebaby won the Irish O’Brien Stakes for statebreds and was promoted from second to first in the Grade 3 Las Cienegas Handicap on the hillside course. Sunday, she won the $150,000 California Cup Distaff.

Lightmyfirebaby ($8.20) ran about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf in 1:12.58, catching 30-1 Christiana’s Heat in the final sixteenth to win by a half-length. Ridden by Joel Rosario, Lightmyfirebaby was fourth or fifth for the first half-mile. North Rodeo, an 11-1 shot who was near the front early, held third in the field of 12 fillies and mares.

Owned by Richard O’Neill, Lightmyfirebaby, a 5-year-old mare by Unusual Heat, has won 6 of 23 starts and $444,437.

Distance: Distant Victory takes first stakes

Distant Victory won her first stakes in the $100,000 California Cup Distance Handicap, overcoming a slow early pace to catch pacesetter Rushen Heat in deep stretch.

Distant Victory ($3) ran 1 1/4 miles on turf in 2:01.69, winning by 1 1/4 lengths under jockey Victor Espinoza. Rushen Heat, who set an early pace of 24.58 and 48.59 seconds, held second, finishing a neck in front of Sports Edition in the field of six.

Distant Victory has won 4 of 6 starts and $199,596 for Scott Gross and John Harris and trainer Carla Gaines.

Juvenile Fillies: Saucey Evening rallies

Familiarity with the quirks of the 2-year-old filly Saucey Evening served jockey Garrett Gomez well this time. After running into traffic trouble in the Del Mar Debutante last month, they returned to win the $125,000 California Cup Juvenile Fillies, utilizing a powerful closing rush that carried them to a 2 3/4-length victory over Ten Churros.

Saucy Evening ($4.60), the favorite, completed 1 1/16 miles on Polytrack in 1:43.14. Ten Churros finished 1 1/2 lengths in front of third-place Spanish Ice.

“Last time I couldn’t get her to settle,” Gomez said of the Debutante, in which Saucey Evening finished seventh. “I wanted to get her off the bridle and gallop along nicely.”

Saucey Evening complied. She settled in eighth in the 10-horse field down the backstretch before launching her rally.

“She has a couple more gears,” Gomez said.

Saucey Evening, owned by George Strawbridge, has won twice in four starts for trainer Graham Motion.

Sprint: Tribesman never headed

Tribesman ($7.40), the favorite, grabbed the lead leaving the gate, then turned back the challenges of Johnny Eves and Partywithlarryz to win the $150,000 California Cup Sprint Handicap in a stakes-record 1:07.85 for six furlongs.

Tribesman set fractions of 21.76 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 44.36 for a half-mile, then kept motoring. He won by 1 1/4 lengths over Johnny Eves, who was three-quarters of a length in front of Partywithlarryz.

The win was the eighth in 15 starts for Tribesman, 4, who was bred and is owned by Kjell Qvale. Russell Baze rode Tribesman for trainer Roger Hansen.

Matron: Famous Ruby in an upset

Famous Ruby ($35.80), the second-longest shot in the field, scored an upset in the $150,000 Cal Cup Matron Handicap for older fillies and mares, a race in which odds-on favorite Bai and Bai ran last.

Famous Ruby won a cavalry charge to the wire, prevailing by a neck over Barbara’s Love, with Stroppy another neck back in third. Spenditallbaby, who ran into traffic trouble at midstretch, was an unlucky fourth, with Bai and Bai sixth at odds of 2-5.

Bai and Bai had $35,067 bet to show on her out of a total show pool of $50,017, resulting in inflated show payoffs on the first three finishers.

With Joel Rosario aboard, Famous Ruby was timed in 1:43.40 for 1 1/16 miles.

Jorge Alcala, 28, owns and trains Famous Ruby, one of 12 horses in his barn.

Juvenile: Lucky Primo avoids trouble

Lucky Primo ($14.60) avoided the traffic trouble that plagued several of his rivals and rallied for a 1 1/2-length victory in the $125,000 California Cup Juvenile. Triumphant Flight finished second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of favored Escalon.

Both Escalon and Babs Moossa encountered significant traffic trouble at several points during the race. Lucky Primo, meanwhile, was kept outside horses the whole way, launched a four-wide rally on the turn, and drew away after reaching the front.

Lucky Primo completed 1 1/16 miles on Polytrack in 1:43.36. Rosario rode Lucky Primo for Marty Jones, who trains the son of Atticus for a partnership that includes co-breeder Joshua Litt.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman