Gem Stable's J P'S GUSTO (Successful Appeal) and Western Mood (West Acre) dominated the wagering in Monday's $100,000 Hollywood Juvenile Championship S. (G3), and the promising novices lived up to expectations by turning the holiday feature into a virtual match race.
J P's Gusto, the 3-5 favorite, was coming off an impressive victory in the Willard L. Proctor Memorial S., while the 7-5 Western Mood had rallied from well back to capture his debut. The market got it right with the favorite's winning on Monday, but both runners performed with great credit, stamping themselves as two-year-olds with a bright future.
The two were content to let River's Chapel (Chapel Royal) streak clear through an opening quarter in :22, but they were beginning to gain ground when the early leader reached a half-mile in :45 2/5. Moving in tandem to overtake River's Chapel at the top of the stretch, the pair settled down into a no-holds-barred duel.
A crafty Joe Talamo aboard J P's Gusto floated rival Western Mood a bit wide coming off the turn. Western Mood nevertheless threw down a sustained challenge beneath Joel Rosario, and actually appeared to get his nose in front at one point.
J P's Gusto dug down along the inside and eventually prevailed by a neck under an energetic Talamo drive. The David Hofmans pupil, who covered six furlongs in 1:10 2/5 over Hollywood Park's Cushion Track, gave back $3.40, $2.20 and $2.10 while keying the paltry $1 exotics -- $2.60 (exacta), $14 (trifecta) and $75 (6-8-3-7 superfecta).
"For being so young, he's so mature and very, very professional," Talamo said. "He was beat by a head or a neck then he really fought back. You really like to see that in a young horse.
"I was pretty confident down the backstretch. I knew the horse in front (River's Chapel) was going very quick for a two year old. At three-quarters I definitely thought he was going to stop the last part.
"I had to move a little bit earlier than I would have liked to because (Joel) Rosario (on Western Mood) moved too, and I just went with him. That's why we stayed so wide coming off the turn -- we made it kind of our race. He was really finishing the last part."
Hofmans was likewise pleased.
"He showed some heart and fought back," the trainer said. "Both colts are pretty nice. They beat the field off quite well. I think Joe had to move a little sooner than he wanted to because that horse was so far in front. He's always been a confident horse, but I think this will give him more confidence, especially the way he came back. Not all horses will do that once they get headed in deep stretch like that."
The Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Western Mood was just outfinished by a more experienced rival, but was himself 5 3/4 lengths clear of the rest and returned $2.40 and $2.10.
"The other horse floated me out a little bit, but my horse was digging in," Rosario said. "He's still learning -- it was only his second start. He's a real good horse, and I think this race will help him next time."
The maiden Minutesandtouches (Rockport Harbor) got up for third, yielding $4.60 at 25-1. Edgewick Road (Swiss Yodeler) reported home another four lengths back in fourth, followed by Leon Ayala (Crown the King), River's Chapel, Tappin Tough (Tapit) and Marvin's Magic (Aptitude).
Now two-for-three, J P's Gusto has bankrolled $97,360. The bay ridgling had a rough introduction to the sport on May 9 at Hollywood, getting away slowly in a 4 1/2-furlong dash and enduring a wide trip before closing strongly for sixth. Hofmans pitched him right into stakes company in the May 31 Willard Proctor, and with a more straightforward passage, he surged to a 4 1/2-length triumph.
Hofmans puts J P's Gusto in the same category as one of his past charges, General Meeting, the runner-up in the 1990 Hollywood Futurity (G1) who went on to capture the 1991 Volante H. (G3) and Bradbury S.
"I think he's right up there with General Meeting," the horseman said. "He reminds me of General Meeting a lot; they're similar in their body style."
Bred by WinStar Farm in Kentucky, J P's Gusto was sold for $52,000 as a yearling at Keeneland September. He is a full brother to Magic Appeal, the third-place finisher in last year's Adirondack S. (G2), and a half-brother to the stakes-placed Kid Majic (Lemon Drop Kid). They are all out of the multiple stakes winner Call Her Magic (Caller I. D.), who is a half-sister to the winning Pacific Spell (Langfuhr), the dam of 2008 champion three-year-old filly Proud Spell (Proud Citizen). This is also the family of Grade 1 winner Imaginary Lady (Marfa).
"We'll probably go next in the Best Pal ([G2] on August 8 at Del Mar)," Hofmans said. "The Del Mar Futurity ([G1] on September 8) is our goal."