HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – It took Lochte seven tries to break his maiden, debuting last April and graduating in mid-December. Three races later, he was a Grade 1 winner.
Longest shot in the field of eight at 39-1, the 4-year-old gelded son of Medaglia d’Oro saved ground inside before shooting through an opening in the stretch and sprinting clear to a 2 ¾-length victory in Sunday’s 29th renewal of the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1).
“It’s like they say in football after you win the Super Bowl, ‘I want to go to Disneyland,’” Vitali said. “I talked it over with the owner and we were taking our chance here. His numbers were going up and up. Myself and my staff, we all felt really comfortable with the horse’s progress.
“The breeding shows he can get the job done. I didn’t see any reason why he couldn’t accomplish great things. I didn’t go into this expecting to come out on top, but I surely hoped I would. Everything unfolded the right way, and here we are.”
Lochte hit the wire in 1:45.67, the fastest time for the Turf since the race went to nine furlongs in 2009. Imagining rallied late to be second, three-quarters of a length ahead of Amira’s Prince.
They were followed under the line by Tetradrachm, Nikki’s Sandcastle, Charming Kitten, 2-1 favorite Summer Front and Boisterous.
“It feels great. I love it,” said Bocachica, who picked up his third career graded stakes win and first since the Fred W. Hooper Handicap (G3) on Nov. 24, 2012.
“I think I’m actually shocked. I didn’t know today would be the day in such a stake,” he said. “I think he’s my new favorite horse.”
Breaking from post two, Tetradrachm led the field through a quarter-mile in 23.40 seconds, a half in 47.70 and six furlongs in 1:11.42 over a firm turf course, with Amira’s Prince to his flank. Lochte, who drew the rail, settled in along the rail well within striking distance.
Tetradrachm was still ahead by a half-length at the top of the stretch as Bocachica and Lochte gradually moved up, waiting for an opening, while Imagining began to gear up on the outside. When a seam appeared, Lochte sprinted through and into the clear.
“He was nice to me. He never had any trouble and I never had to check him,” Bocachica said. “He was in the right spot and I was just waiting to have the clear and the moment for him to run his race. When I had the room to ask him, he was there for me. He just ran his race.”
Vitali said he felt confident throughout the race as he watched Lochte, who is owned by Cross Sabres Farm. After three failed tries on dirt, he was moved to the turf by previous trainer Kiaran McLaughlin last summer and has excelled on the grass, with three wins, a second and two thirds in six trips.
“He likes to sit 2-3 lengths off the lead, maybe a length. He’s got a lot of power,” Vitali said. “I told Orlando today if he shows you and you feel him moving underneath you, don’t hold back. You have to be up close on this course. I thought turning for home, it was all over. He made the right move at the right time. The fence opened up and he was full of run.”
A winner of his two previous starts including the Red Smith (G3) to close his 2013 campaign, Imagining closed well on the far outside under jockey Joel Rosario after being next-to-last for six furlongs to be second.
“Turning for home, we were right there,” trainer Shug McGaughey said. “There was a hole, and the horse [Lochte] just spurted through there. I’m very pleased with the way my horse ran.”
Bred in Ireland, Amira’s Prince had won all four of his starts in North America , three of them at Gulfstream, including the 2013 Mac Diarmida (G2). Sunday’s race was his first since taking the Mervin Muniz Jr. Handicap (G2) at Fair Grounds last March.
“He just didn’t quicken with them,” trainer Bill Mott said. “He got a little anxious. First time out, he got a little anxious.”