03/04/2012 7:45PM

Santa Anita: Mr Gruff controls pace in Joe Hernandez

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BENOIT PHOTO
Mr Gruff, ridden by Joel Rosario, scores as the odds-on favorite in the Joe Hernandez.

ARCADIA, Calif.- A kinder pace scenario and a drop in class helped Mr Gruff win for the sixth time in eight career starts on Santa Anita’s hillside turf course in Sunday’s $79,880 Joe Hernandez Handicap.

Mr Gruff led throughout the race over about 6 1/2 furlongs. Ridden by Joel Rosario, Mr Gruff ($3.60) set fractions of 22.14 and 43.80 seconds, leading by a half-length on the hillside. Once on the main section of the turf course, Mr Gruff led by as much as 1 1/2 lengths in the stretch. He held off a persistent 12-1 outsider in Ain’t No Other to win by a half-length.

Pressday finished third, followed by Dancing in Silks, Mensa Heat, Mobilized, Silver Summation, and Gig Harbor. Dancing in Silks, the winner of the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Sprint here, was making his first start since July, and first for trainer Anthony Saavedra in the Hernandez.

Sent off at 44-1, Dancing in Silks was second or third on the hillside and finished two lengths behind Mr Gruff.

Mr Gruff was timed in 1:12.06, and won the fourth stakes of his career in the Hernandez. Owned by Gary Broad and trained by Ron Ellis, Mr Gruff was third in the Grade 3 Daytona Stakes on the hillside turf course on Jan. 8. In that race, he fought through early fractions of 21.55 and 43.03 seconds and faded to finish third, 1 3/4 lengths behind Caracortado.

“The last time it was a little too quick,” Rosario said. “He was more relaxed this time. I got a little pressure but he handled it pretty good.”

An 8-year-old gelding by Mr. Greeley, Mr Gruff has won 7 of 13 starts and $351,110. The winner of the Grade 3 San Simeon Handicap on the hillside turf course in 2009 and 2010, Mr Gruff will be pointed for the same race on April 21, according to Ellis.