Long-winded stretch-runners usually don't perform well at Santa Anita, but today they got a fair chance on a track made deep and tiring by a few days of steady rain.
Nostalgia's Star made the most of this rare opportunity, circling the field on the turn to win the $539,250 Charles H. Strub Stakes. He scored by 3 1/2 lengths over Roo Art, the Maryland colt who was making his first California appearance.
The other Easterner in the field didn't acquit himself with such distinction. Proud Truth, who had won the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic last fall, suffered his second straight thrashing here. He finished fifth as the 9-to-5 favorite under conditions that should have been ideal for him.
The Strub was run over a racing strip very different from the speed-favoring Santa Anita norm, very different from the one on which most of these same horses had competed in the San Fernando Stakes. In that race, lightly regarded Right Con bounded along on the rail to lead all the way; Nostalgia's Star did well to be second. Today the times of early races on the card resembled a slow Eastern track, and front-runners weren't winning.
It was just right for both Nostalgia's Star and Roo Art. They sat in the middle of the pack while long shot All Hands on Deck took the lead and set a fast pace, running a half-mile in 46 3/5 seconds, with Right Con just outside him.
As the field reached the turn, Right Con briefly shook away from all the other speed horses and opened a two-length lead. But at that moment all the other speed horses were making their moves.
Nostalgia's Star started to accelerate three-wide on the turn, and jockey Fernando Toro felt good about the horse under him.
"I knew I had a lot of horse," he said. "He was handling the track good. Jorge (Velasquez) was riding Proud Truth and I'd just been sitting there."
Laffit Pincay Jr., put Roo Art in gear, just behind the eventual winner and just outside him. Velasquez was asking Proud Truth for a response, but for the second straight time he wasn't getting much of one.
Nostalgia's Star collared Right Con entering the stretch and took a commanding lead, and none of his pursuers seriously threatened him. Roo Art, who looked as if he had a chance to win on the turn, managed only to wear down Fast Account to get second place by a neck.
There were two late scratches: Will Dancer and Catane were declared earlier in the day.
Nostalgia's Star, who covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:03 3/5, paid $13.20, $6.20 and $4.20. Roo Art returned $6.20 and $4.20, and Fast Account paid $3 to show.