Mongolian Groom stuns McKinzie in Awesome Again, Mirth money in Rodeo Drive

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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.

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.

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.”

Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

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BENSALEM, Pa. – Taiba won the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby by three lengths for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

Ridden by Mike Smith, Taiba ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.67 and paid $4.80, $3 and $2.60.

It was Baffert’s fourth win in the Grade 1 event at Parx Racing. He also won in 2014, 2017 and 2018. Smith won the race for the third time, all aboard Baffert horses.

Zandon returned $3.80 and $2.60. Cyberknife was another 3 3/4 lengths back in third and paid $3 to show.

Taiba was coming off a second-place finish in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth in July. The colt was 12th in the Kentucky Derby under Tim Yakteen, who took over training him while Baffert was serving a 90-day suspension.

“He had a little bit of a rough trip in the Haskell, but we had some time to get him ready for this one,” Baffert said from his base in California. “He proved today he is a good horse. He is getting better and better.”

Baffert Taiba will be pointed toward the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. The colt has three wins in five starts this year.

Kentucky Derby modifies qualifying, elevates prep races

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs has modified paths to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, awarding points to the top five finishers in qualifying races and increasing significance for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and late prep season events.

Most Derby prep races during the qualifying series for 3-year-olds will award points on a 10-4-3-2-1 sliding scale after using a 10-4-2-1 system since 2013. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, run during the season-ending championships on Nov. 4 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, will increase points from 20-8-4-2 to 30-12-9-6-3 to differentiate the Grade I event from others during prep season.

Select prep races for the 20-horse Derby field have elevated points from a 10-4-2-1 scale to 20-8-6-4-2 to increase their importance and motivate hopefuls to begin their 3-year-old campaigns earlier in the season, track officials stated in a release.

“We believe these modifications adhere to and amplify our goal of assembling the finest group of 3-year-olds in the starting gate for a race at the classic distance of 1\ miles on the first Saturday in May,” Churchill Downs vice president/general manager Mike Ziegler said.

The 149th Kentucky Derby and Oaks for fillies will be held on May 5-6, 2023. Derby qualifying season begins with Saturday’s $300,000, Grade III Iroquois for 2-year-olds at Churchill Downs.

The point changes apply to Oaks qualifiers.

Elevated Derby preps include the Lecomte at Fair Grounds in Louisiana; Southwest at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas; Withers at Aqueduct in New York; Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park in Florida; Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in California; Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs; and John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park in Kentucky.