Mongolian Groom Stuns McKinzie in Awesome Again, Mirth Money in Rodeo Drive

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Mongolian Groom scored a front-running upset at 25-1 odds Sept. 28 at Santa Anita Park in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Whether a Breeders’ Cup race or a Breeders’ Cup Challenge contest, trainer Enebish Ganbat and his family’s Mongolian Stable can pull off a surprise.

Four years ago Ganbat registered a 15-1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Keeneland with Mongolian Saturday, and at Santa Anita Park Sept. 28 he scored with 25-1 longshot Mongolian Groom, who led at every call over McKinzie and Higher Power in the $300,351 Awesome Again Stakes, a key prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic .

Though the Awesome Again was a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Classic at Santa Anita Nov. 2, Mongolian Groom is not nominated to the Breeders’ Cup, and Ganbat seemed reluctant to make the required supplemental fee to make him eligible in post-race interviews following the Awesome Again. He mentioned running the horse in Asia as an alternative.

Mongolian Groom put away McKinzie in deep stretch. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The race still figures to see at least several of its competitors continue toward the Classic. Runner-up McKinzie, third-place Higher Power, and fourth-place Seeking the Soul earned Classic berths by winning designated races earlier in the year.

Rather than think about the Breeders’ Cup, Ganbat seemed merely delighted to savor the Awesome Again.

“We were running against the two best horses in America, McKinzie and Higher Power,” he said.  “I didn’t think he could beat them. No, no, no. Best two trainers, best two horses. How can I beat them? But it happened.”

It happened, in part, due to how the race unfolded. A 1 1/8-mile dirt test, it was relatively devoid of speed. The favorable circumstances were then compounded when TVG Pacific Classic winner Higher Power stumbled leaving the gate and when Whitney Stakes winner McKinzie was rated.

“I saw McKinzie didn’t go, so I took the lead,” winning jockey Abel Cedillo said.

Once there, Mongolian Groom controlled the tempo with relaxed quarter-mile fractions of :23.99, :48.29, and 1:12.07, equipped to turn back an early stretch bid from 3-10 favorite McKinzie to pull away by 2 1/4 lengths.

He completed 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.27, returning $52.80 for a $2 win wager.

A 4-year-old gelding by Hightail out of the Dynaformer mare Bourbonesque, Mongolian Groom recorded his first stakes victory in the Awesome Again.

Despite Saturday’s defeat, McKinize’s rider Mike Smith was optimistic for what is ahead for his mount in the Breeders’ Cup.

“We lost the battle, but this ain’t the war,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll come back and be ready.”

None of the four other finishers was close to the winner. Higher Power checked in 5 1/4 lengths behind McKinzie in third, followed by Seeking the Soul, Draft Pick, and Isotherm.

Front-Running Mirth Rolls in Rodeo Drive Stakes

An hour after saddling the one-two finishers in the John Henry Turf Championship  in Cleopatra’s Strike and Acclimate at Santa Anita Park, trainer Phil D’Amato delivered an grass encore by training Mirth to a 6-1 upset in the $300,351, Grade 1  Rodeo Drive Stakes.

Mirth winning Rodeo Drive. (BENOIT photo)

He received an assist from jockey Mike Smith. With the Hall of Famer climbing aboard for the first time, he settled Mirth into a comfortable gallop on the lead in a paceless race, and she responded with the breakout performance of her 16-race career.

Left with plenty in reserve in the 1 1/4-mile grass race after quarter-mile fractions of :23.72, :47.52, 1:11.05, and 1:35, she remained strong to the finish line, concluding the final quarter-mile :23.47 to hit the wire 1 1/4 lengths over favored Beau Recall. She stopped the clock in 1:58.47, paying $14.20 as the fifth choice in the field of six.

“We were the lone speed in the race and Mike was able to execute it the way we wanted. And here we are,” D’Amato said.

Where she might be next is the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf Nov. 2 at Santa Anita. The filly, owned by the Little Red Feather racing partnership, earned a free, automatic berth in the Filly and Mare Turf by taking the Rodeo Drive, a “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup qualifier.

“I’ll be honest, we hadn’t even thought about it before five minutes ago,” said Little Red Feather founder Billy Koch, minutes after kissing D’Amato in jubilation on national television. “We were just worried about today. So we’ll see how it goes and hopefully we’ll be there at the Breeders’ Cup. We’ll leave that up to Phil.”—Byron King

Cleopatra’s Strike Outfinishes Stablemate Acclimate in John Henry

The $201,053, Grade 2 John Henry Turf Championship Stakes marked only the third start on the West Coast for Cleopatra’s Strike since moving to trainer Phil D’Amato’s barn and owners Slam Dunk Racing and Michael Nentwig, and the 6-year-old gelding scored his first stakes win in the 1 1/4-mile event after dueling with stablemate Acclimate.

“I didn’t know what his distance limitations may or may not be,” D’Amato said of the winner. “He trained like a horse that could go a mile and a quarter. And Abel [Cedillo] rode him to perfection and got the job done on him.

“It was bittersweet because my other horse was doing those fractions. To see them both dueling in deep stretch, I’m proud of them both. You know, ‘Cleopatra’ proved best. I’m happy for Slam Dunk Racing.”—Christine Oser

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