Getting to Know Breeders’ Cup Contender Omaha Beach

Racing
Omaha Beach cools off after a hard-fought win in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes Oct. 5. (Eclipse Sportswire)

A favorite for the Kentucky Derby Presented By Woodford Reserve earlier this year before sidelined by a breathing issue in the days before the first jewel of the Triple Crown, Omaha Beach returned in a big way Oct. 5. The 3-year-old War Front colt showed a new dimension to his abilities by winning the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes in his first race since April.

Fox Hill Farms’ Omaha Beach earned an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint with his victory, but his connections are also considering the Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile and Breeders’ Cup Classic for the talented colt. With myriad options now at his door, let’s learn more about Omaha Beach.

Race Resume

It took Omaha Beach five starts to break his maiden but three of the four defeats were tough, close losses by a half-length or less late in his 2-year-old and early in his 3-year-old seasons. When he finally put everything together, Omaha Beach blitzed a maiden special weight race at Santa Anita by nine lengths when going seven furlongs on Feb. 2.

Typically a conservative trainer, Hall of Famer Richard Mandella must have felt he had something special on his hands because he immediately put the colt on the Kentucky Derby trail by shipping him to the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, where he faced a field that included 2018 champion 2-year-old male Game Winner.

Omaha Beach in the spring. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The 1 1/16-mile Rebel proved to be Omaha Beach’s coming-out party with the colt sticking close to the leader early in the race before taking over on the far turn. Game Winner made it a true test in the final eighth of a mile, closing quickly to force the stewards to look at a photo to determine the winner. In the end, only a nose separated the top two, but Omaha Beach registered his first stakes win and put himself squarely in the Kentucky Derby picture.

Omaha Beach returned to Arkansas the following month for the Arkansas Derby and faced another talented Bob Baffert colt in Grade 1 winner Improbable along with future Kentucky Derby winner Country House. Running on a sloppy track, Omaha Beach was in midpack immediately after the break but quickly took over the lead in the 1 1/8-mile race as the field entered the backstretch.

Improbable mounted a challenge on the turn, but Mike Smith sat chilly on Omaha Beach as Improbable continued to attempt to catch him. In the stretch, Smith asked his mount to go and he kept Improbable a length behind him while making it clear he had more than enough left in the tank if needed. 

The Arkansas Derby was the third straight victory for Omaha Beach and he looked poised to give his sire his first American classic winner.

As we’ve all learned in Thoroughbred racing, however, things frequently do not go as planned. While a dramatic Kentucky Derby was playing out in Louisville, Ky. May 4, about 75 minutes away in Lexington, Omaha Beach was recovering from surgery earlier in the week to repair an entrapped epiglottis at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital. The procedure forced Omaha Beach to be scratched from the Kentucky Derby and miss the 2019 Triple Crown races.

Omaha Beach encountered a few more setbacks over the summer that had him miss an intended start in the Shared Belief Stakes followed by a botched workout that led to him missing the Ack Ack Stakes at Churchill Downs Sept. 28. But it all worked out in the best of ways when he was rerouted to the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship.

At a three-quarter-mile distance many thought might be too short against a top 3-year-old sprinter in Shancelot, Omaha Beach took his place in the starting gate for the first time since April 13. Smith was happy to let Omaha Beach race behind leading Shancelot, who set a fast but uncontested pace in the race.

As the field turned for home, the game was on and Omaha Beach went after the leader. The result was in doubt until the finish line when Omaha Beach pushed his head in front to continue his winning streak with Flagstaff 2 ½ lengths behind the top pair in third.

2019 SANTA ANITA SPRINT CHAMPIONSHIP

“It’s just a relief to have him back at the same level he went out,” Mandella told Santa Anita’s publicity department the day after the race. “We had some tough obstacles to overcome at the start and then some lesser ones – just stupid things – afterward, a virus, a horse dropping the rider in front of us during a workout, just [stuff] you can’t control, but it forced us to improvise and it turned out well.”

Running a 111 Equibase Speed Figure – higher than any of his spring races – the question now switches from “is Omaha Beach as good he was in the spring” to “which Breeders’ Cup race will his connections target?”

Pedigree

Omaha Beach was bred to be successful. The dark bay or brown colt comes from one of the best female families currently in North America and by the most expensive stallion on the continent.

A Grade 2 winner, War Front spent part of his stallion career at a stud fee of $10,000 but his success has seen him rise to a fee of $250,000. He has a reputation as a turf sire, but the versatile stallion has found quite a bit of success on the dirt with dual Grade 1 winner (and Rebel winner) The Factor, this year’s Preakness Stakes winner War of Will, Breeders’ Cup Classic third-place finisher Declaration of War, and more.

While War Front seems to throw more sprinter-miler types, Declaration of War and Lancaster Bomber, among others, have shown they can go farther and Omaha Beach’s female family also helps on that front.

Smith aboard Omaha Beach Oct. 5. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Omaha Beach is a half-brother to 2014 champion 2-year-old filly Take Charge Brandi, who won the 2014 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. His dam, Charming, was a winner herself and all four of her foals to race are winners. Omaha Beach’s full-brother, Courage Under Fire, was Group 1-placed in Ireland.

Omaha Beach’s grandam, Take Charge Lady, is a Keeneland legend as a three-time Grade 1 winner at the Lexington track and she also is a top-class broodmare. Her foals include 2013 champion 3-year-old male Will Take Charge and 2012 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy, both of whom won at route distances in Grade 1s. Take Charge Lady has produced seven winners as a broodmare and also is the dam of stakes-placed Intelligence.

This family has class through the generations as Take Charge Lady is a half-sister to two stakes winners and Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Chamberlain Bridge is part of Omaha Beach’s extended family.

The sky is the limit for Omaha Beach, who looks to be the rare horse that can be competitive in any race in which he is entered. However, with a wide-open Breeders’ Cup Classic field and the race looking to be one of the final starts of his career before he retires to Spendthrift Farm next year, it won’t be surprising if his connections stretch him out to 1 ¼ miles to attempt a Classic win – and maybe a chance at the 3-year-old championship if he wins the race.

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