Michael House’s Hunt has transformed from turf sprinter into long-distance runner, stretching out successfully to 1 3/8 miles in Saturday’s $252,760 Del Mar Handicap (G2). Winner of the 1 1/8-mile Eddie Read (G2) earlier in the meet, the 5-year-old gelding earned a berth to the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Del Mar in the qualifying race.
Flavien Prat was up for Phil D’Amato.
An Irish-bred son of Dark Angel, Hunt added blinkers in the Eddie Read after dropping his five previous starts and the headgear has apparently made a difference. The gray patiently stalked pacesetter Mr. Roary in fourth through splits of :24.40, :49.40 and 1:14.88, and launched his rally up the inside leaving the far turn.
Hunt surged to the front in midstretch and determinedly withstood the late bid of 5-2 favorite Itsinthepost by three-quarters of a length. The winner was off as the 3-1 third choice in the 13-horse field and stopped the teletimer in 2:14.03.
The late-running Flamboyant finished another neck back in third at 18-1 and it was a length to 95-1 outside Prime Attraction in fourth. Ashleyluvssugar, the defending champ and 3-1 second choice, weakened to sixth after being prominent early.
Bred by Michael O’Callaghan, Hunt was imported from Johnny Murtagh’s yard in Ireland and began his American racing career at two turns in 2015. He switched to turf sprints last year, winning the Siren Lure and placing in the Eddie D. (G3) and Joe Hernandez, and stretched back out to two-turns in his 2016 finale.
Hunt returned from a seven-month layoff this year with a rallying fifth in the one-mile American (G3) at Santa Anita in early July and followed with one-length score in the Eddie Read. Out of the Vettori mare Mansiya, he’s bred for longer distances on his dam side and has now earned $548,442 from a 23-7-5-3 record.
Quotes from Del Mar
Winning trainer Phil D’Amato on Hunt: “It was a masterful ride. Flavien (Prat) just bided his time, let the race develop a little, found a seam on the inside and turned him loose. He got it done.”
Winning jockey Flavien Prat: “The slow pace helped us; he like that, coming from the shorter race. We were close up, too. He likes to be among horses; covered up. I followed Gary (Stevens on Ashleyluvssugar) through the hole (at the top of the stretch), then dropped down. He had it from there.”
Tyler Baze on runner-up Itysinthepost: “He was way the best horse; way the best. I had to wait, wait, wait on the turn. If I could have gotten him out, we would have come running.”