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DEL MAR, CA – Enjoying a considerably cleaner trip while cutting back considerably from a third-place finish in the 1 1/4-mile Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) last time out, C R K Stable’s Express Train took the lead at the 1/4 pole and held on against a late onslaught to win Saturday’s $250,000 San Diego Handicap (G2) at Del Mar.
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The 5/2 second choice in the field of eight, Express Train and jockey Juan Hernandez pressed outside the early leader Rushie through the clubhouse turn and down the backstretch before overtaking that rival 1/4 of a mile from home.
With the 8/5 favorite Royal Ship breathing down the rail and Tripoli mounting a furious rally down the center of the lane, the John Shirreffs trainee gamely held position to win the 1 1/16-mile fast dirt route by a 1/2-length in 1:43.37.
“He broke real sharp today and that was the key,” Hernandez said. “I stayed aggressive with him; he likes it and runs well when you do. We had a good spot until the 1/4 pole, and then I really got after him. He was responding well, and then those other horses came up on him and he dug in again. He’s a tough one.”
Tripoli took second by 3/4 of a length over Royal Ship, second by a head in the Gold Cup whose rail bid faltered in deep stretch.
Mo Mosa, Magic On Tap, Rushie, Sheriff Brown, and Kiss Today Goodbye completed the order of finish. Tripoli’s stablemate Heywoods Beach scratched to run in Sunday’s local 1 1/2-mile Cougar II Stakes (G3).
Express Train’s win was his second at the graded stakes level following January’s San Pasqual Stakes (G2) and improved his overall record to 12-4-4-2 with $659,300 earned. The 4-year-old Union Rags colt will likely point to the $750,000 TVG Pacific Classic Stakes (G1), a 1 1/4-mile dirt route here August 21 that headlines the 2021 Del Mar meet.
“I thought he was in a good spot the whole way, right off Rushie, and then when he was asked in the stretch, he responded well,” Shirreffs said. “The Pacific Classic, that would be the goal if everything works out.”
Express Train returned $7.80 to win, $4.60 to place, and $2.80 to show. Tripoli brought back $7.80 to place and $4.20 to show. Royal Ship paid $2.60 to show.
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