Making his first start for trainer Jeff Mullins, Wilkinson upset odds-on favorite Mr. Commons in the American Handicap (G2) at Hollywood Park on Saturday.
Dismissed at 44-1, the 4-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid saved ground while racing close to the pace, angled outside approaching the stretch, collared leader Liberian Freighter with less than an eighth of a mile to run and easily withstood the late surge of 3-5 favorite Mr. Commons.
Owned by E.K. Gaylord II, Wilkinson was ridden by Martin Pedroza. It was Wilkinson’s first graded victory. Well-traveled when in the barn of Neil Howard, the dark bay colt out of the Afternoon Deelites mare Tasha’s Delight arrived in California having lost six in a row.
Completing the mile on turf in 1:33.37, Wilkinson paid $90.60, $18.20 and $8.20. The previous highest win price in the American was Takarian, who returned $64.20 when he scored the first of his two victories in a race that has been contested 73 times.
Now 5-for-18 lifetime, Wilkinson, who has competed at seven different tracks in five states, increased his earnings to $336,994.
“I only got the horse five days ago, so all the credit has to go to Neil Howard,’’ said Mullins after his first American victory. “I trained (Tasha’s Delight) and she always tried hard. The trip was kind of what we wanted.
“(Gaylord) told me the horse needs to be close up and out of trouble,” he added. “We let Marty know that and he did it perfectly. The first thing you notice about him is he’s a handsome horse. He does everything in the morning and loves his job.
Mullins said Wilkinson will be aimed for the $300,000 Grade I Shoemaker Mile June 30.
The win was also the first in the race for Pedroza and the veteran rider was quick to credit what he was told in the saddling paddock.
“In my handicapping it looked like he wanted to make one run,’’ said Pedroza. “When I came out to get instructions, everything changed. Jeff told me to warm him up without a pony and get him to feel loose and aggressive.
“He told me to send him leaving there and sit behind the first flight,” Pedroza added. “I just fell right into a perfect trip. If I had done what I wanted to do, sit and make one run, I probably wouldn’t have won. Believe me, my plan was different.’’
The loss was the second in a row for Mr. Commons, who paid $2.40 and $2.10, as the odds-on choice. He was also the runner-up when 4-5 in the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile March 3 at Santa Anita.
“I thought he ran really well from the 10 post,’’ said Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, referring to Mr. Commons’ draw. “You’d like to win it, but he’ll get a lot out of this race and move forward.
–Hollywood Park Publicity contributed to this report.