ARCADIA, California — Hard Not to Like moved into contention around the far turn and dug in for a neck victory in the $200,000 Gamely Stakes Monday at Santa Anita.
Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Hard Not to Like ran 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:49.87 and paid $9.20, $5.40 and $4.40.
Fanticola returned $8.20 and $5.60, and Blingismything was another half-length back in third and paid $8.80 to show.
Fanticola set a moderate pace and then repelled a challenge from Blingismything with a sixteenth of a mile left, but couldn't hold off Hard Not to Like's rally along the rail.
"Tough beat, a real tough beat," Talamo said. "She ran her butt off."
Espinoza dropped Hard Not to Like down to the rail in the Grade 1 race.
"I was going to stay there and if it opened, it opened," he said. "In the stretch, when I saw the rider in front of me (Joe Talamo) switch to his left hand, I knew that normally a horse will drift out a little. I knew it was my chance and that's how I got through on the inside."
Hard Not to Like came to Santa Anita after a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Jenny Wiley Stakes on April 11 at Keeneland.
"I thought she always looked like a winner, but I thought she was going to be the unluckiest loser of the day," said Lee Vickers, assistant to trainer Christophe Clement. "That was a brilliant ride, but the man's on fire and he rode with confidence, that's all I can say."
The victory, worth $180,000, increased Hard Not to Like's career earnings to $961,671, with seven wins in 19 starts.
In the $100,000 Los Angeles Stakes, Distinctiv Passion led all the way to win by a neck under Edwin Maldonado.
Distinctiv Passion ran six furlongs in 1:08.00 and paid $6.60 and $3 as the 2-1 third choice.
San Onofre returned $2.80 as the 4-5 favorite. Wild Dude was another 1¼ lengths back in third. There was no show wagering because of the four-horse field.
The victory, worth $60,000, increased Distinctiv Passion's career earnings to $453,660, with eight wins in 17 starts.