08/06/2016 9:22PM

Much-improved Free Rose upsets La Jolla Handicap

Benoit & Associates
Free Rose connects at 28-1 under Joe Talamo in the Grade 3 La Jolla.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Free Rose, who beat one horse in a $20,000 claiming race on dirt at Keeneland less than four months ago, continued his remarkable turnaround since being switched to turf by scoring a front-running, 28-1 upset in the Grade 3, $151,725 La Jolla Handicap for 3-year-olds on Saturday at Del Mar.

 Free Rose was making his stakes debut, and was understandably overlooked against nine rivals, including the first two from the opening-day Oceanside Stakes, a race Free Rose couldn’t even get in. But over a turf course that has increasingly favored speed as the meet has progressed, he set legitimate fractions and bravely turned back all challengers to give trainer Richard Baltas his second turf stakes win of the meet, following the 3-year-old filly Mokat in the Grade 2 San Clemente two weeks ago.

 Under Joe Talamo, Free Rose ($59.80) staved off Lucky Bryan to win by a half-length, with Moonlight Drive another half-length back in third. Monster Bea, favored at 2-1 following his victory in the Oceanside, was fourth and was followed, in order, by Liam the Charmer, Dressed in Hermes, Mr. Roary, Ebadan, Burger and Fries, and Imperious One.

 Free Rose completed 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.73 following successive quarter-mile fractions of 22.29 seconds, 46.59, 1:10.97, and 1:34.64.

 “He was challenged, got a breather down the backstretch, and gutted it out,” Baltas said.

 Free Rose, a gelding by Munnings, won just one of his first six starts, all on dirt. But since moving to turf, he won a starter-allowance at Keeneland, then was third in an allowance race at Churchill Downs in which Monster Bea was second.

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 After that race, he was acquired by Abbondanza Racing LLC, a locally based partnership that includes Del Mar-based attorney Bing Bush Jr., and transferred to Baltas. In his first start on this circuit, Free Rose was third in a first-level allowance against older runners on July 23.

“He’s a different horse on turf,” said Baltas, who noted that the course profile of late helped Free Rose.

 “This week, especially, horses up close are doing well,” he said.

 Baltas said Free Rose would return in the Grade 2, $250,000 Del Mar Derby on Sept. 4, the penultimate day of the meet.