Melatonin opens up late to upset Big 'Cap
The Big 'Cap appeared to be a relatively pace-less race on paper, and a number of bettors figured it would be second choice Donworth, a close third in the San Antonio (G2) after attending the pace, who would be the one to go to the front. Instead, jockey Joe Talamo took the initiative with Melatonin.
Dueling with General A Rod through an opening quarter in :22.82, Melatonin soon moved ahead to claim a narrow advantage while 6-5 favorite Effinex tracked in third from a three-wide position. Meanwhile, Donworth proved hard for Mario Gutierrez to handle when bottled up in fourth. Showing eagerness throughout the run down the backside, Gutierrez had to apply the brakes multiple times as there was simply nowhere for the colt to run.
Clicking off internal fractions of :46.28 and 1:10.81, Melatonin came under pressure around the far turn from both General A Rod and Effinex. The headstrong Donworth, still trapped in behind the eventual winner, had no room to navigate, clipped heels with that one and lost his momentum approaching the quarter pole.
However, Talamo still had a lot of horse left. Shaking off General A Rod and Effinex by the turn for home, the gelded son of sprint champion Kodiak Kowboy poured it on late to win by 4 1/4 lengths in a time of 2:02.01 over a fast track.
Owned by Tarabilla Farm and trained by Dave Hofmans, Melatonin paid $34.60. Hard Aces, winner of last year's Gold Cup (G1) but a 22-1 outsider in the Big 'Cap, rallied between rivals to edge Effinex for second by a half-length.
"When California Chrome went to Dubai, I thought we had a chance," said Hofmans, who was convinced to point Melatonin to this by Talamo, who rode him to a victory in a second-level allowance on February 5 going 1 1/16 miles.
That 3 3/4-length score was the third career win for Melatonin, who remained undefeated in three starts over Santa Anita's main track with this victory. After breaking his maiden over the track in February 2014 in his fifth career start, Melatonin was out of action for more than a year and a half afterwards.
Reappearing at Del Mar last August, Melatonin, previously trained by Jeff Bonde, won on debut for Hofmans in a first-level allowance going six furlongs. His next three starts were also sprints, but he failed to win any of them. A fifth in the $102,000 Pirate's Bounty was followed by the aforementioned second in the Eddie D, and he concluded 2015 with a third in second-level allowance company at Del Mar.
Produced by the stakes-placed Yanquee Reign, a daughter of Yankee Victor, Melatonin hails from the family of multiple Grade 1 winner Twice the Vice. His record now stands at 11-4-2-3, $768,552.
The plodding Hard Aces will likely have a legitimate chance to defend his title later this summer in the Gold Cup, but will be hard pressed to gain more than minor share most other times, especially in races shorter than 10 furlongs.
Effinex had little to offer in the stretch, perhaps because it was his first race in three months. However, considering the general weakness of this field, he might not figure as one of the horses to beat in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) over this track in November. He was a clear second to American Pharoah in last year's Classic at Keeneland.
The horse most will want to bet back is Donworth, who some thought might not have been given the best of rides by Gutierrez. Wherever his travels take him, he still remains a work in progress and is unlikely to offer much value betting-wise.