New Zealand-bred Master Belt came from well off the pace to register a 68-1 shocker in the $100,000 Morvich Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the downhill turf course at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting Sunday.
Trained by Simon Bray in his first United States start for owner Tom Hamilton, Master Belt, with Tyler Baze aboard, flew down the middle of the track's stretch to mow down the leaders by a half-length over I Love Silver. Kachamandi was a close third, a nose in front of fast-closing Sarafan, who was left at the start of the 6 1/2-furlong Morvich.
F J's Pace set a fast pace in the field of 10 with fractions of :21.23 and 43.06 before giving way in the stretch. El Cielo, seeking to win his third straight Morvich, inherited the lead on the inside. But the 8-year-old gelding was under heavy pressure from several stalkers, including I Love Silver, who appeared to be headed for victory until Master Belt unleashed his stretch run. The winning time was a crisp 1:12.26.
"I'd be lying if I said I thought we'd win today," said Bray. "But we knew he was going to fire his best shot."
The 4-year-old chestnut, a gelded son of Masterclass, the winner was making his first trip to the post since March 23, when he was 11th in the Group III Manawatu Classic. He raced with Lasix for the first time.
"Sometimes it can take these horses from the Southern Hemisphere a whole to get acclimated," Bray said. "We took our time with him.
Masterbelt collected his sixth victory in 20 starts and the $60,000 first-place purse increased the gelding's earnings to about $135,000.
The winner paid $138.40, $41.40 and $14.80. I Love Silver returned $7 and $4.80. Kachamandi paid $5. The $2 exacta was $1,097.20.