Don Alberto Stable and WinStar Farm’s Battle of Midway put a head in front of Sharp Azteca early in the stretch run of the $1 million Las Vegas Dirt Mile and appeared to have all the momentum in his favor.
The front-runner wasn't done, though, and fought back admirably on the inside but could not hold off the Smart Strike colt. Battle of Midway finished a half-length ahead at the wire for his first grade 1 victory and stopped the clock in 1:35.20, with jockey Flavien Prat adding an emphatic celebratory swipe at the air.
After a good break from post No. 9 in the field of 10, Battle of Midway was wide through most of the Dirt Mile. With a tracking, four-wide trip in the first turn, Battle of Midway continued on his outside path in the backstretch, then launched his bid five-wide in the final bend.
"I let him break and find position and was wide early. I thought there would be more pace," Prat said. "Then down the backside he relaxed well and gave me a really good kick."
Ivan Rodriguez's Sharp Azteca set fractions of :22.94, :46.95, and 1:11.13 through six furlongs, but had a battle on his hand as he turned for home. Although the Freud colt could not hold off the winner, trainer Jorge Navarro was proud of Sharp Azteca.
"He dug in through the stretch and tried hard," Navarro said of the four-time graded winner. "He showed up."
The Dirt Mile was Battle of Midway's second graded victory—he also won the June 24 Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita Park and came in third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands —but trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said the colt's affinity for Del Mar, where he won the Aug. 26 Shared Belief Stakes, was key.
"He's a horse for the course," Hollendorfer said. "He loves Del Mar. He had run a huge number here (in the Shared Belief Stakes). We had a lot of confidence in him coming into this race."
Practical Joke closed from ninth to finish fourth, and was followed by Iron Fist, Giant Expectations, and Gato Del Oro.
Favored Mor Spirit, who got a clean, tracking trip in third, began to drop back in the final turn and finished eighth. Bob Baffert-trained stablemate Cupid finished last, with Accelerate between them.
"I was afraid that, with Mor Spirit going in, that I couldn't get enough into him. He just got tired," Baffert said. "I was disappointed in Cupid. Maybe it was too short for him. He chased a little bit. If they don't show up, they don't show up."
"I was in a really good spot," said Mor Spirit's jockey, Mike Smith. "He just didn’t want it today. That’s not him. He just let go.”
Off at 14-1, Battle of Midway paid $30.40, $11.40, and $6.60 across the board. Bred in Kentucky by Thor-Bred Stables, out of the Concerto mare Rigoletta—a Grade 1 winner herself—Battle of Midway now has a 5-2-2 record from 10 starts and more than $1.2 million in earnings.
- Jeremy Balan
$1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf: A year after sending New Money Honey out to win the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, Bob Edwards’ e Five Racing returned with undefeated Rushing Fall and took down the mile event at Del Mar. Both contenders were trained by Chad Brown and ridden to victory by Javier Castellano.
Rushing Fall, who came off a victory in the Oct. 10 Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland after breaking her maiden at first asking Sept. 16 at Belmont Park, broke well from post 11 and tracked the pace set by Moon Dash, who went a quarter in :23.04, and Juliet Capulet, who took over to run a :47.23 half. Rushing Fall rallied six wide into the stretch and took command, running seven-eighths in 1:24.09 en route to a final time of 1:36.09 on turf rated firm.
"Chad was really confident in this filly back when she was at Stonestreet (training center)," Edwards said. "He said, 'Look, if you give her to me, I'll take you to the Breeders' Cup,' and this was seven months ago. He delivered."
Edwards gave credit to agent Mike Ryan, who selected Rushing Fall from Taylor Made Sales Agency's consignment to the Fasig-Tipton New York Saratoga 2016 select yearling sale, where she was purchased for $320,000. She was bred in Kentucky by Fred W. Hertrich III & John D. Fielding out of the Foresty mare Autumnal.
"It's the combination, once again. It's Mike Ryan, it's Chad, it's Javier," Edwards said. "I talk to the guys regularly, and they guide me and help me through the industry. Owners here, there's a lot of great people in the business that kind of help you. And as you guys know, it's a big social club. We all want to win, but at the end of the day, we're all friendly. This is a really great sport, and we all love it."
Rushing Fall defeated Best Performance by three-quarters of a length. The Christophe Clement trainee wound up in the runner-up spot for a fifth straight race. It was a length back to Aidan O'Brien-trained September, who completed the trifecta. Happily, the 2-1 favorite for O'Brien in a 14-horse field, was steadied in tight multiple times and weakened to finish last. - Claire Novak-Crosby
Racing just off the pace throughout while saving ground, Mendelssohn deftly angled out in the stretch under Ryan Moore then powered to the first Grade 1 victory of his career in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Nov. 3 at Del Mar.
Mendehlssohn actually had been pre-entered as first preference for the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile and second preference in the Juvenile Turf. But O'Brien thought after an up and down start for Mendelssohn in his career, he didn't want to throw a new surface at the son of Scat Daddy.
"He's progressed with every race. We were afraid to change him up, so we kept him on the grass," O'Brien said. "He's stepped up every time. This is marvelous. It's been a big team effort this year."
Moore angled Mendelssohn out in the stretch and he proved to have another gear, quickly taking command while West Point Thoroughbreds' Untamed Domain and Jose Ortiz launched a rally to finish a length behind in second, but not threatening the winner.
A future big start on dirt is still very much front of mind with the connections. Even though Mendelssohn ran well on the turf Friday, earlier in the week O'Brien said he would consider Mendelssohn for next year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on the dirt at Churchill Downs.
Consigned by his breeder to the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale, Mendelssohn topped that sale when purchased for $3 million by M.V. Magnier. - Frank Angst