Sharon Alesia, Bran Jam Stable and Ciaglia Racing Stable’s Ashleyluvssugar scored his second victory in the Grade 2 Charles Whittingham Stakes on Sunday, bulling his way between rivals in the final eighth of a mile to win by a long neck on the wire. The 6-year-old son of Game Plan, who first won the Whittingham in 2015, stopped the clock for 1 1/4 miles over Santa Anita’s firm turf in 1:58.49. Trainer Peter Eurton and Gary Stevens followed their plan to relax the gelding off the pace early, and he rewarded them with a strong late kick and was game through the wire to hold off Frank Conversation and become only the third horse to win the race twice.
“At this point in his career, at his age, I think he’s much better when we can get him covered up and make a run,” Eurton said. “Being on the lead, going this far, at his age, he gets tired, it’s difficult to take all that pressure. As you could see, he was a little keen that first quarter, but going a mile and a quarter, he’s better off running this way. I didn’t know if Gary was going to be able to get through, but Gary said he was loaded and he sure was.”
Though Ashleyluvssugar was near the front of the pack after leaving the starting gate, Stevens was able to convince him to back off the pace and relax before crossing over the dirt track to join the main course. That move left Patentar alone on the front end, leading Frank Conversation and A Red Tie Day through a first quarter in 23.86 seconds. Heading to the clubhouse turn, a five-wide pack tried to make the lead, including Patentar, Frank Conversation, It’sinthepost, A Red Tie Day and Texas Ryano out widest. Stevens kept Ashleyluvssugar snugly against the rail as Patentar felt the pressure and moved to mark the half in 47.78 seconds.
Down the backstretch Patentar stealthily moved away from the field, but Stevens kept Ashleyluvssugar in a close fourth tracking the leader. Entering the far turn Patentar got away from Frank Conversation by nearly four lengths, and Ashleyluvssugar had to wait for clear running room until the head of the lane. Straightening toward the wire, Frank Conversation got out a bit, leaving room for Ashleyluvssugar to move through between him and a fading Patentar. Ashleyluvssugar dropped his head and dug deep to keep himself a neck in front at the wire, relegating Frank Conversation to second. Syntax got up for third and Liam the Charmer finished fourth.
“I pulled on him and he settled for me,” Stevens said. “They were lined up going down the backside and they were going a fair enough pace for a mile and a quarter. I was hoping for room and I got the split I needed at the head of the stretch. He just exploded.”
Bred in California by his owners, Ashleyluvssugar is now a four-time graded stakes winning millionaire. In total, the 6-year-old has won 10 of his 22 starts to build his earnings up to over $ 1.2 million.
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