Omaha Beach may have missed a start in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, but a month away from the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park he looks on course for one of its championship races.
The morning-line favorite for the Derby, scratched from that race due to an entrapped epiglottis, made a sparkling return from a five-month layoff in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship Oct. 5 by catching free-running Shancelot in an exciting stretch battle.
As part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, the $300,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship earned Omaha Beach an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint Nov. 2 if his connections opt for that race. The Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile is also under consideration.
The six-furlong Santa Anita Sprint Championship confirmed what Omaha Beach’s Hall of Fame trainer, Richard Mandella, long believed: his horse is naturally quick. Although his prior success before Saturday had come in longer races, memorably in winning the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes and Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in routes this spring at Oaklawn Park, it was clear from the break Saturday that the colt could sprint.
Jockey Mike Smith settled him a couple of lengths off the pace of Shancelot as he sped away early with quarter-mile splits of :21.87 and :44.38. Traveling smoothly, Omaha Beach put himself in contention coming into the stretch. Then Smith sent him up along the inside to go after the leader.
Though Shancelot tried his best to repel the winner, keeping him at bay for much of the stretch, he did not have enough to withstand him in the race’s final 50 yards.
“He broke extremely well, almost too well,” said Smith. “He kind of slipped a little leaving there, but man, he settled right in behind them really nice and he was loaded coming off that turn. Mr. Mandella really had him ready today. His last work was brilliant and he ran the way he worked.”
Even coming off a promising breeze, there was much to overcome. Omaha Beach needed surgery to correct his entrapped epiglottis, and then missed a couple preps over longer distance due to minor physical and training setbacks. This meant Mandella had little time to specifically prepare him for a race as short as the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, a six-furlong dance he completed in 1:08.79. He paid $7.20.
“I took two weeks to make a sprinter out of him. It isn’t like we practiced this a lot,” Mandella said. “But the really good horses can adapt to whatever you ask them.”
Owned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm, Omaha Beach has a record of four wins, three seconds, and one third from eight starts and earnings of more than $1.3 million. He is a 3-year-old son of War Front out of the Seeking the Gold mare Charming, making him a half-brother to champion 2-year-old filly Take Charge Brandi. He was bred in Kentucky by the Charming Syndicate.
Omaha Beach was not the only horse to show his quality Saturday. Shancelot fought tenaciously, finishing 2 1/2 lengths in front of third-place Flagstaff. Winner of the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga Race Course this summer, the Shanghai Bobby colt seems a leading Breeders’ Cup Sprint contender.
True Valour Determined in City of Hope Mile Upset
Qatar Racing Limited’s True Valour added a second graded stakes score in the U.S. to his growing résumé Oct. 5, when he posted an upset in the Grade 2, $202,106 City of Hope Mile in a blanket photo finish.
The leading pair maintained their front-running positions throughout most of the race as Kingly set quarter-mile fractions of :22.58, :45.50, and 1:09.04 through six furlongs. Tracking the pace just off the rail in fifth, True Valour was guided out to the four path at the top of the stretch and urged forward. Kingly and Restraindvengence refused to yield and were soon joined by Prince Earl and True Valour — widest of all — who drew on even terms to challenge in deep stretch.
Coming under a hard drive, True Valour managed to edge his competition by a head at the finish line. Final time for the mile was 1:32.82 on a firm turf course. Restrainedvengence took second, a nose in front of Prince Earl.
“Simon told me to keep him covered up, that’s the main thing,” Van Dyke said. “If he sees daylight, he gets aggressive, which he was early. From there, I just tried to find a path and someone to follow.”
True Valour returned $35.80, $16.20, and $7 on a $2 wager.
The City of Hope was the second consecutive stakes score for True Valour and his first race since February when he took the Grade 3 Thunder Road Stakes by a half-length at Santa Anita.—Meredith Daugherty
Lady Ninja Nips Selcourt to Win L.A. Woman Thriller
Thirteen months after being claimed from a $32,000 claiming race at Del Mar, Lady Ninja is now a graded stakes winner.
Racing at Santa Anita Park Oct. 5 in the 100,000, Grade 3 L.A. Woman Stakes, she picked up her first graded win by taking the 6 1/2-furlong dash for fillies and mares by a nose over frontrunning Selcourt.
Breaking from the inside post in the field of five, she stalked Selcourt as that mare raced uncontested on the lead with fast splits of :21.44 and 44.13. Angled out for the stretch by jockey Drayden Van Dyke, it took all she had to wear Selcourt down. She pulled alongside that rival in midstretch and inched past the determined runner-up in the closing sixteenth of a mile.
A 5-year-old daughter of Majesticperfection out of the Formal Gold Mare Dressed to Kill, Lady Ninja stopped the clock in 1:16.79.
“She gutted it out. She gutted it out two or three times,” said winning trainer Richard Baltas. “She is very tough when she gets in those duels down the lane. She always wants to win.”—Byron King