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.”

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.

Baffert: 2-year Churchill Downs suspension hurt reputation

bob baffert
Sam Upshaw Jr./USA TODAY NETWORK
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs never gave advance notice nor reached out to explain its two-year suspension, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said in federal court, and reiterated that the penalty has caused irreparable harm to his business and reputation.

Baffert has sued the historic track and is seeking a temporary injunction to stop his suspension following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The suspension for a series of failed tests by his horses runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet and could exclude Baffert from the Derby for a second consecutive spring.

Almost a year ago, Kentucky racing officials disqualified Medina Spirit and suspended Baffert for 90 days for those failed tests. Churchill Downs elevated Derby runner-up Mandaloun to winner.

“They’ve hurt my reputation,” Baffert said during nearly two hours of testimony in U.S. District Court. “My horses should’ve made much more money. I didn’t run for 90 days, and I had to let people go.”

Churchill Downs wants the case dismissed, citing nine failed tests by Baffert-trained horses as justification for disciplining horse racing’s most visible figure. The list of violators includes 2020 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Gamine, who was ultimately disqualified.

Medina Spirit failed his test for having in his system the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Baffert and attorney Clark Brewster have argued came from an ointment rather than an injection.

Track president Mike Anderson said the decision by Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen stemmed from Baffert’s “refusal to take responsibility for repeat violations” during a news conference at his backside barn after Medina Spirit’s failed test was revealed.

“We wanted to make a statement that this was a consequence of not doing the right thing,” Anderson said.

Attorneys Matt Benjamin and Christine Demana, who are representing Churchill Downs, also disputed Baffert’s contention that business has suffered by noting his latest crop of promising 3-year-old colts on this year’s Derby trail.

One of them, Arabian Knight, won last week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by 5+ lengths to give Baffert his record sixth win in the race. The horse is ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points as the winner because of Baffert’s suspension.

A slide presented also showed that Baffert horses made 477 starts from May 10, 2021, through December 2022 and won marquee races such as the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Corniche, the Eclipse winner) along with Grade 1 wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes (Taiba).

Friday’s 3 1/2-hour hearing followed four hours of testimony on Thursday. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings gave no indication when she would rule. But Brewster said he expects a decision “within several days.”

Baffert testified that he had had a good relationship with Churchill Downs, though he noted that he was paying for his seats at the track and having to “grovel” to get them. He also insisted that he tried to be a good ambassador for horse racing, especially after American Pharoah and Justify won the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

“I think today was great because I finally got to tell my story in a nonbiased atmosphere,” he said. “I hope for the best, and hopefully we’ll be here.”