Big John B, winner of 12 of 28 career starts on grass, including the 2014 Del Mar Handicap, showed another dimension to his ability Friday as he scored his first victory on a dirt surface with a come-from-behind triumph in the featured Grade III $100,000 Cougar II Handicap.
With Rafael Bejarano in the saddle, Big John B rallied on the rail entering the stretch and outgamed 12-1 longshot Bailoutbobby in the final furlong to score by a half-length in 2:31.62 for the mile and one-half. Big John B had competed twice on dirt early in his career without finishing in the money.
Sky Kingdom, the 6-5 favorite, was in front turning for home but faltered in the stretch to be third, four and one-quarter lengths back of the runner-up and a half-length in front of Lideris. Cat Burglar, the pacesetter until the far turn, was fifth and last as the 3-2 second choice. Scratched were Point Piper and Solid Wager.
Big John B, owned by Michael House and trained by Phil D'Amato, earned $60,000 with the 13th win of his career and returned $8.40, $4.80 and $3. His bankroll now is $567,175.
Bailoutbobby, who was piloted by Flavien Prat, paid $7.60 and $2.80, while Sky Kingdom, second in the Cougar the past two summers, returned $2.20 to show.
With a two-day carryover of $235,618, Friday's Pick Six attracted $1,128,186 in "new" money for a total pool of $1,363,804. There were four perfect tickets and each was worth $209,576.60.
RAFAEL BEJARANO (Big John B, winner) – The two up front were going slow on the lead, so I waited. I was stuck down inside and he was pulling on me to go at the six (with six furlongs left to run), but I didn’t want to go with him just yet. I watched for my chance and at the three-eighths (pole) I saw the 2 (Cat Burglar) come out. I went through inside and he went right for it; no problem. Good race for him. Good trip. The second-place horse (Bailoutbobby) was running at the end, so it was good we got through. But my horse loved it; he loved the dirt.”
FLAVIEN PRAT (Bailoutbobby, second) – “I had to go outside with him for room. He’s so one-paced, I couldn’t take the chance inside. He ran very well; tried very hard. The winner just got through and had the better trip.”
MARTIN GARCIA (Sky Kingdom, third) – “He just got a little tired.”
PHIL D’AMATO (Big John B, winner) – “He trained so well on the dirt track at Santa Anita and just as well on the dirt track here at Del Mar. The distance was right. The timing was right to get him a prep for the Del Mar Handicap (of which he’s the defending champion). We took a shot. Rafael (Bejarano) said they put him in tight at the quarter pole but it didn’t bother him, he bulled his way through and won with something left. The Pacific Classic is definitely not out of the realm of possibility but right now I’d say we’re leaning more toward the Del Mar Handicap. ”
FRACTIONS: :24.60 :48.73 1:14.04 1:39.81 2:05.73 2:31.62
The stakes win was the first of the meet for rider Bejarano. It was his second win in the Cougar II and his 44th overall stakes tally at Del Mar.
The stakes win was the first of the meet for trainer D’Amato, as well as his first in the Cougar II. He now has five stakes wins at Del Mar.
Big John B is owned by Michael House of El Cajon, CA.
This was Big John B’s first victory on a dirt track.