Weekends without a significant Kentucky Derby prep are a rarity once the calendar turns into January. This past weekend was one of the exceptions.
With an absence of 3YO stakes to ponder and the top tier older horses awaiting the stakes packed, richly endowed Pegasus card a week from Saturday and multi-million events on the other side of the globe beckoning not far down the road, lesser events featuring horses hoping to launch breakthrough campaigns in 2020 dominated Saturday.
You know the stakes aren’t big deals when a schooling and routine workout are the big newsmaker. That was the case this weekend. Omaha Beach, apparently fully recovered from a minor foot ailment, schooled in the Gulfstream paddock and walking ring between races Saturday.
With Richard Mandella in town, Omaha Beach had his penultimate pre-Pegasus work on Sunday, getting five furlongs in 1:00.42, then galloping out in 1:14.35 and 1:28.43. A man of few words, Mandella said, “Went nice.”
Joseph strikes again
Ignoring Saffie Joseph Jr. in stakes–in any race for that matter–is like declaring a jihad against money. The native of Barbados struck again in the Tropical Turf, saddling 7-year-old Tusk to an 8-1 upset in the Grade 3 stakes.
Joseph claimed Tusk, who had never won a stakes, in October at Belmont. In his first start for his new barn, Tusk took third in the Claiming Crown Emerald. Under a clever ride by Tyler Gaffalione, he grabbed the brass ring in the Tropical Turf.
“He sat a perfect trip,” Joseph said. Gaffalione kept Tusk covered until he found a hole at the top of the lane between Gidu, who had forced a quick pace (22.91, 45.22, 1:08.48), and Thread of Blue, who appeared in a golden spot to run past the tiring pace-setter.
Gaffalione threaded the needle and gradually drew away as Gidu tired but was gallant enough to hold the place. Maraud passed the rest for third as Thread of Blue, who didn’t get to run his preferred style on the pace, had no late kick.
The victory was Joseph’s third of the day and 15th of the meeting. He also scored a triple, all in stakes, including the Mucho Macho Man with Chance It, a week ago.
The female counterpart, the Marshua’s River, was another example of “what’s new?” Chad Brown sent out Magic Star, who had only a maiden win at Saratoga on her resume. She justified her trainer’s confidence, circling the field on the turn, leaving the well backed Sweet Bye Bye and Andina Del Sur, who looked poise to take control, in her wake.
“She was there for me the whole time,” Irad Ortiz Jr. said. “As soon as I tipped her out, she just kicked on.”
The authority and style with which she won, in spite of her lack of experience, catapults Magic Star into the ranks of Team Chad fillies who will have to be reckoned with in turf stakes the rest of the year. The rich gets richer.
In between the two stakes, the always highly regarded Endorsed returned to the races with an eye-catching allowance win around two turns. Unseen since finishing fourth in the Travers, the Curlin runner-up dropped back early, trailing by double digits. Luis Saez had to put him in a drive from the five-furlong pole to get the job done, which he did convincingly.
With many of the big name older horses heading to the Middle East or the breeding shed, Saturday’s showing suggests Kiaran McLaughlin has a son of Medaglia d’Oro who could quickly become a major player in the depleted handicap division.
Cutting Humor, also on the comeback trail for Todd Pletcher, ran a better than looked third. Forced wide from an outside post, he rushed to contest the pace, appeared to be going backward late from the effort but found another gear and held the place.
Another serious filly emerged out West. Jolie Olimpica, an undefeated Brazilian champion, made her U.S. debut her fourth straight win in the 5 ½ furlong grassy Las Cienagas.
Racing in the colors of Omaha Beach’s Rick Porter, Jolie Olimpica put away four rivals as easily as a horse can win. Mike Smith barely had to move the reins and probably made many in Southern California ecstatic by never having to uncock his whip.
Her time of 1:01 was a track record, although it needs to be put into context. Santa Anita has been running 5 ½ on the turf only since its fall meet.
Even though she was unchallenged through the final stages as Smith sat chilly, “she galloped out well within herself,” Smith said, adding that she gave him the feel of a horse who will have no trouble stretching out. Indeed, in her South American finale she defeated males in a Group 1 stakes.