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


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.”

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance

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NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.

Judge grants Churchill Downs’ request for summary judgment to dismiss Bob Baffert’s lawsuit

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal judge has granted Churchill Downs’ motion for summary judgment that dismisses Bob Baffert’s claim the track breached due process by suspending the Hall of Fame trainer for two years.

Churchill Downs Inc. suspended Baffert in June 2021 after his now-deceased colt, Medina Spirit, failed a postrace drug test after crossing the finish line first in the 147th Kentucky Derby. The trainer’s request to lift the discipline was denied in February, keeping him out of the Derby for a second consecutive May.

U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings ruled in a 12-page opinion issued Wednesday that Churchill Downs’ suspension of Baffert did not devalue his Kentucky trainer’s license. It cited his purse winnings exceeding $1 million at Keeneland in Lexington and stated that his argument “amounts to a false analogy that distorts caselaw.”

Jennings denied CDI’s motion to stay discovery as moot.

The decision comes less than a week after Baffert-trained colt National Treasure won the Preakness in his first Triple Crown race in two years. His record eighth win in the second jewel of the Triple Crown came hours after another of his horses, Havnameltdown, was euthanized following an injury at Pimlico.

Churchill Downs said in a statement that it was pleased with the court’s favorable ruling as in Baffert’s other cases.

It added, “While he may choose to file baseless appeals, this completes the seemingly endless, arduous and unnecessary litigation proceedings instigated by Mr. Baffert.”

Baffert’s suspension is scheduled to end on June 2, but the track’s release noted its right to extend it “and will communicate our decision” at its conclusion.