What has been a good meeting for Rafael Meza got even better Sunday.
Riding Fly Till Dawn for the first time in the $270,250 Eddie Read Handicap, Meza directed the 12-1 shot to a wire-to-wire upset in the meeting's first Grade I event.
Owner of only three previous victories--a $32,000 maiden race and two allowance contests on the turf--Fly Till Dawn relaxed well for Meza, got away with some very soft fractions (:24 3/5, :48 3/5 and 1:12 2/5 for six furlongs), then outfinished Classic Fame, the 2-1 favorite, to win by a head in 1:48 1/5 for the 1 1/8 miles on turf.
This was the second stakes win of the meeting for Meza, who had teamed with Sensational Star two weeks earlier for a 14-1 surprise in the Bing Crosby, and his ninth overall.
"This is one of the sweetest wins I've ever had because it's been awhile since I've ridden a good horse," he said. "(Agent) Richie (Silverstein) has been working really hard and I've been able to get on some good horses.
"Taking off the blinkers allowed (Fly Till Dawn) to relax. He was just having fun out there. I didn't think (Classic Fame) was going to get me at the end because my horse was still trying hard. He was game and he gave me an extra effort at the end."
Even though the winner had been in only one other added-money race--he was second to Live The Dream in Hollywood Park's Fiesta Handicap June 29--the 4-year-old Swing Till Dawn colt has been a different animal since he tested the turf. He's never been off the board in eight grass outings and the Eddie Read was his third triumph.
"We took the blinkers off him today in hopes that would relax him," said Darrell Vienna, who trains the gray for owner Josephine T. Gleis. "I told Rafael to send him, but to slow it down as much as he possibly could. I was hoping to get the other riders to think that he'd be out there flying and they'd lay off him.
"It worked. Sometimes, nicely enough, and surprisingly, things work out in this game just the way you hope they will. This horse broke his maiden as a 2-year-old, then fractured a (rear sesamoid) and was off for a long time."
Classic Fame, who upset Steinlen in the American Handicap July 4, was almost two lengths better than Golden Pheasant, the 2-1 third choice, who finished a length in front of 23-1 shot Nediym.
Eddie Delahoussaye said the runner-up was his own worst enemy. "This horse beat himself," he said. "If he's covered up (behind horses), he runs, but if he's in the clear he wants to drift out. Either he needs blinkers or needs to be covered up.
"As soon as he sees daylight, he drifts out. He got a beautiful trip. You couldn't ask for anything better."
Away since failing as the even-money favorite in the Hollywood Turf Handicap, Golden Pheasant was wide a good deal of the way and never looked like he was going to be a factor.
"The slow pace hurt and we lost a lot of ground around the turn," said Gary Stevens. "But, I was happy with the way he ran and so was Charlie (Whittingham). This race should set him up good for the Arlington Million."
Defending Read champion Saratoga Passage was fifth, then came Notorious Pleasure, Companion and Soft Machine, the longest shot in the field at 48-1.
Even though Steinlen was upset in the Bernard Baruch at Hollywood Park, the day wasn't a total loss for trainer Wayne Lukas and owner Daniel Wildenstein.
Nijinsky's Lover, the 2-1 second choice, outbattled 9-1 shot Bimbo II in the final furlong to win the first division of the $84,050 San Clemente Handicap.
Completing an early daily double sweep for Gary Stevens, the 3-year-old Nijinsky II filly won by a half-length and covered the mile on turf in 1:36 2/5 for her fourth victory in 12 starts.
Never too far off the moderate pace, Nijinsky's Lover picked up her second straight stakes--she won the Moonglow July 6 at Hollywood Park--even though she wasn't fond of Del Mar's grass.
"My filly was bobbling a lot on the turf and didn't like it," said Stevens, who won the first with 8-1 shot Going Easy. "About 10 jumps from the wire, she really bobbled and was scrubbing pretty hard. The turf is high for her running style. She's low moving."
Next up, according to Lukas, is a try in the Del Mar Oaks 13 days from now.
"She's a grass filly this one, all the way," he said. "She's getting more mature and doing it better all the time now, too. She seemed to be having some troubles with the course there--it looked to me like she bobbled a few times--but she's getting professional enough that she can handle things like that now."
Slew Of Pearls, the narrow 2-1 favorite, was a half-length behind Bimbo and had no excuses.
The second division of the San Clemente wasn't nearly so kind to Lukas.
Making her first start on grass, Patches, the 6-5 favorite, was next to last, and just in front of her was Lukas' other entrant, Special Happening.
Lonely Girl, a 17-1 shot who had been competing at Arlington Park, held off a very unlucky Bel's Starlet to win by a nose in 1:36 1/5.
A winner of three of nine outings in the Midwest, Lonely Girl tracked Special Happening until the top of the stretch, drew clear, then got the best of the headbob at the wire against Bel's Starlet. The runnerup lacked room in the drive, then Corey Black dropped his whip with a sixteenth of a mile to go.
Bidder Cream, who was off very slowly, was third, 2 1/2 lengths back of Bel's Starlet.
"My son, Tom, just sent her here from Chicago," said Lonely Girl's trainer, Willard Proctor after his first local stakes win since Footy took the 1986 Junior Miss. "He told me she'd handle the turf. Most probably, she'll run back in the Oaks."
Horse Racing Notes
Rafael Meza's wife, Doreen, is expecting the couple's first child and the due date is Aug. 23. "This sure comes in handy," he said after the Read. "I can buy a lot of diapers." . . . Fly Till Dawn paid $27 to win and the exacta coupling him with Classic Fame was worth $96.80. . . . Prepping for Sunday's Del Mar Derby, Mehmetori worked six furlongs in 1:10 for Richard Mulhall Sunday morning. A 3-year-old son of Mehmet who has improved considerably since he was switched to the turf, Mehmetori won a division of the opening-day Oceanside Stakes. . . . Cinema and Swaps winner Jovial worked five furlongs in 59 1/5. "We're intending to go to the Travers (Saturday at Saratoga), but I'm having some flight difficulties," said trainer Bruce Jackson. . . . No one isolated all six winners in the Pick Six, so there's a carryover of more than $192,000.