Mubtaahij, Bolt d’Oro Headline Breeders’ Cup Prep Day at Santa Anita

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Mubtaahij (left) and Bolt d’Oro were among the standouts on Sept. 30 at Santa Anita, winning the Awesome Again Stakes and the FrontRunner Stakes, respectively. (Eclipse Sportswire)

A new barn and new location led to a long-awaited top-level score for Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum's Mubtaahij at Santa Anita Park on Sept. 30.

Now under the guidance of trainer Bob Baffert, the Dubawi colt broke through for his first top-level score in the $300,000 Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes with a closing drive Saturday. He finished 1 ½ lengths ahead of pacesetter Midnight Storm and finished the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:51.32.

It was Mubtaahij's first victory since the Group 2 UAE Derby Sponsored By Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group in March of 2015 and snapped a 10-race winless streak. Mubtaahij earned an automatic berth to the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar via the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series, and would add to Baffert’s already impressive arsenal for that race if he shows up.

"I think the blinkers kept (him) more focused today," Baffert said of the equipment change. "I didn't want to change too much, though. He's a classy horse. ... This horse – his last two works really impressed us. I just threw him in here and he has the class. He's proven."

Midnight Storm went to the lead from post 3 and set a pace of :23.20 and :47.06 through a half-mile, as Mubtaahij raced in sixth, eight lengths back. Mubtaahij advanced to fourth under jockey Drayden Van Dyke through six furlongs in 1:11.56, but favored Baffert stablemate Cupid also loomed in third.

"The trip was great," Van Dyke said. "I was really keeping my eye on Cupid and taking my cue from him. I was placed where I wanted to be and didn't start asking him until late, but when I asked him, he responded.

But the favorite could not sustain his bid, while Midnight Storm dug in and the closers rallied late. Along with Mubtaahij came the longest shot on the board at 25.60-1, Win the Space, with a bid. As many as 12 lengths behind early, Win the Space appeared prime for an upset with a wide drive, but flattened out late and finished third, a head behind Midnight Storm.

Although it was Mubtaahij's first Grade/Group 1 victory, it also didn't come out of nowhere. In two stateside trips he finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and fourth in the Belmont Stakes in 2015, and in 2016 finished a close third in the Suburban Handicap and was a head back in second in the Woodward Stakes. He also finished second to California Chrome in the 2016 Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline and fourth in the same event in 2017.

"Even last year, those last few races in New York were pretty strong," Baffert said. "He needed today. He got a little tired there at the end. He's good to have in the barn."

Cupid finished fourth, and was followed by Breaking Lucky, Curlin Rules, and Donworth, to complete the order of finish.

"I'm disappointed in Cupid," Baffert said. "I thought I'd run 1, 2 in here."

Bred in Ireland, Mubtaahij now has a 5-4-1 record and more than $4.5 million in earnings from 18 starts.–Jeremy Balan


Bolt d'Oro Untouchable in FrontRunner

Bolt d'Oro's first two wins were impressive enough, but he arrived Sept. 30 in the $300,000 Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita Park.

After a comfortable tracking trip behind longshot frontrunner Take the One O One, Bolt d'Oro turned the 1 1/16-mile test into a one-horse race as the field turned for home. Runner-up Solomini tried his hardest to challenge, but hit the wire 7 ¾ lengths behind the Mick Ruis-owned and -trained winner, who stopped the clock in 1:43.54. Bolt d’Oro earned an automatic berth in the Nov. 4 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar with the win.

"This was pretty cool," Ruis said. "We thought he was going to run a good race. We thought he could run two turns, and now we know he can."

After a clean break under jockey Corey Nakatani, the Medaglia d'Oro colt put himself into position early in the race behind Take the One O One, who set fractions of :23.17, :47.23, and 1:11.88 through six furlongs. Bolt d'Oro cruised by the leader in the final turn, opened up three lengths with a furlong to run, and extended the margin to the wire.

"I was more impressed when I watched the replay," Nakatani said. "I really liked the way he did it. He's confident wherever he is at. He is a special animal. Mick gave me the instructions and the horse did the rest."

Solomini moved into striking range in the final turn, but simply could not keep up in the stretch. The Bob Baffert-trained Curlin colt finished 2 ½ lengths ahead of Take the One O One for second.

"He ran a great race," said Solomini's jockey, Flavien Prat. "That was only his second start and he did everything I asked him to do. He was just beat by a good horse that has more experience."

The clean break was important for Bolt d'Oro in his first try in a two-turn race, considering he caused his own trouble in his first two races with slow starts. The winning margins in his two previous races – 2 ½ lengths in his debut Aug. 5 at Del Mar, and three-quarters of a length in the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 4 – likely would have been wider if not for sluggish starts.

"We learned that he could break today," Ruis said. "We always knew he could, but we didn't want him to think he was a sprinter in those races, so I think we're on the right track. ... Our goal was this race and the Breeders' Cup, and then give him a chance to grow up. Hopefully what dreams are made of is what this guy might be able to get us to."

Bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, out of the A.P. Indy mare Globe Trot, Bolt d'Oro now has $396,000 in earnings.

While Bolt d’Oro’s owner and trainer was somewhat vague about his hopes for the colt, his jockey didn't mince words.

"I'm looking forward to the Breeders' Cup, as well as the first Saturday in May in Kentucky," Nakatani said.–Jeremy Balan


Moonshine Memories Stays Perfect in Chandelier

No, Moonshine Memories doesn't need the lead, and yes, the daughter of Malibu Moon can handle two turns.

In the aftermath of her 2 ¾-length triumph in the $300,000 Grade 1 Chandelier Stakes, the Simon Callaghan trainee is ready for the toughest question of her young career come Nov. 4. Moonshine Memories cemented herself as one of the favorites for the 14 Hands Winery Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Del Mar when she cruised to victory Saturday to remain unbeaten in three career starts. The bay filly earned an automatic berth to the Juvenile Fillies as the Chandelier is a Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race.

After leading at every point of call in her two prior wins, including the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante on Sept. 2, Moonshine Memories rated kindly in second behind favored Alluring Star for jockey Flavien Prat through fractions of :23.03 and :46.75 down the backside.

"I had a great trip. She's learned to relax, so that's great," Prat said. "She broke well, she sat off the pace, dropped the bit and relaxed well today. When I made my move, she was all there.

"Simon told me to break and just wait and see what the other speed was going to do but I kind of rode her the same as I did in the Debutante."

Moonshine Memories ranged up outside to stick a head in front of Alluring Star with about a quarter mile to go. Prat had a most enjoyable view the rest of the way as his mount motored on down the lane, covering the distance in 1:46.72 over a track rated fast.

"I just like the way she sat off horses and relaxed really well," Callaghan said. "That's the key to getting these longer distances. We know she's got speed, and she's proven it in these two other races, but today she showed she relaxes, and that makes everyone's job easier."

"There's some pressure (going into the Breeders' Cup undefeated) when you're training a filly like this. It's not any added pressure, but it's a good position to be in."

Alluring Star was in deep water at the top of the lane and was all-out to hold off Piedi Bianchi by a neck for the place.

Owned by Bridlewood Farm, Susan Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor, Moonshine Memories boosted her earnings to $396,000.–Alicia Wincze Hughes


Paradise Woods Cruises in Zenyatta Stakes

Back on the track where she put in the best performance of her career, Paradise Woods shone once again in the $300,000 Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes.

On an uncontested lead throughout the 1 1/16-mile test, similar to her 11 ¾-length victory in the April 8 Santa Anita Oaks, the Union Rags filly cruised around the Santa Anita Park main track under jockey Flavien Prat and hit the wire in 1:44.34, 5 ¼ lengths ahead of second-place finisher Faithfully.

It ended a two-race skid for the Richard Mandella trainee, which included off-the-board finishes as the short-priced favorite in the May 5 Longines Kentucky Oaks and the Aug. 27 Torrey Pines Stakes.

"I wasn't as confident (as I've been in the past), not in her ability, but the fact that she's kind of gone south," Mandella said. "We had to get through some hard times, and we did. She responded. It was a lot of schooling.

"This was a relief. I was worried something would go wrong again, but it went right."

Faithfully finished a clear second, 13 ¼ lengths ahead of Motown Lady, who came in another 9 ¼ lengths ahead of Midnight Toast in the field of four.

"It was a lot different today. (The Torrey Pines) last time was very bad and nothing went well," Prat said. "Today she broke just a tad slow, but she got going and really relaxed for me on the backside. We've been working on her relaxing, because she has a tendency sometimes to be very aggressive. She was quite good today and we look forward to the next step."

The next step, according to Mandella after the Zenyatta, is the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff at Del Mar Nov. 3. Paradise Woods earned an automatic berth to the 1 1/8-mile Distaff with the Zenyatta Stakes win.

"The Distaff is the goal," the Hall of Fame trainer said. "I couldn't ask for more than what we had today." –Jeremy Balan


Avenge Repeats in Rodeo Drive

Avenge used a familiar stepping stone to rediscover her best form.

One year after earning her first top-level victory in the $300,000 Grade 1 Rodeo Drive Stakes at Santa Anita, the 5-year-old daughter of War Front  used the 1 ¼-mile turf test to snap a three-race losing skid when she overtook pacesetter Goldy Espony en route to a three-quarter length triumph on the Awesome Again Stakes card.

Though she had only been worse than third once in the six starts that preceded Saturday's edition of the Rodeo Drive, Avenge's most recent effort had been a sixth-place run in the  Aug. 5 Yellow Ribbon Handicap when she was outkicked by all but one rival. Where she wired her competition in last year's running of the Rodeo Drive, this time it was her turn to show her turn of foot could hold off the cavalry.

With Goldy Espony leading the nine-horse field past the stands for the first time, Avenge sat in the two-path in second under the red-hot handling of jockey Flavien Prat, who had guided Moonshine Memories to victory in the Chandelier Stakes and Paradise Woods to the win in the Zenyatta Stakes earlier on the card. The dark bay mare would stay just off leader's tail through a quarter-mile in :23.72 and a half-mile in :47.50 before being joined in the first flight by Goodyearforroses making a bid to her outside.

"My filly was nice and relaxed," Prat said. "When (Corey) Nakatani (aboard favored Goodyearforroses) came to me at the three eighths, my filly grabbed the bit, but she stayed relaxed."

Those two moved in tandem to descend upon Goldy Espony approaching the far turn before Avenge snatched the advantage outright coming into the head of the lane.  With Prat going to the right-handed whip, the Richard Mandella trainee kept digging to find more to hold off a slew of late runners and hit the wire in 1:58.74 over a course rated firm.

"This feels very good. This is what we do this for," said Mandella. "I was impressed that she settled off the leader and that she had such a good finish.

"I felt better about it at the quarter pole. When she exploded away from there, you could tell it was working. It's been frustrating because we couldn't quite get her back to herself until now but, I think we do have her now and we hope we're in as good of shape as we did last year."

Goldy Espony fought back to get second by a nose over Responsibleforlove. Even-money favorite Goodyearforroses stopped in the lane and came home eighth.

Owned by Ramona Bass, Avenge is now on track for a return outing in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, a race she finished third in last November. The Rodeo Drive is a Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Filly and Mare Turf. Avenge improved her record to seven wins from 16 career starts with earnings of $868,341 in earnings.–Alicia Wincze Hughes

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