March 24, 2018

Bal a Bali back to best in Kilroe

Calumet Farm's Bal a Bali and jockey Javier Castellano, left, overpower What a View (Tyler Baze), right, to win the Grade I, $400,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita Park © BENOIT PHOTO

Expected to enter stud for a $10,000 fee this season, Bal a Bali was instead kept in training by new owner Calumet Farm. The decision reaped dividends straightaway when the Brazilian Triple Crown winner scored his biggest U.S. victory in Saturday’s $400,345 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) at Santa Anita.

A laminitis survivor like Lady Eli, Bal a Bali was stricken with the disease shortly after arriving in Florida in 2014. Fox Hill Farms and Siena Farm’s new recruit was intended to join Richard Mandella and prepare for the Breeders’ Cup. Those plans were scuttled as Bal a Bali fought laminitis. But he recovered and eventually did make his way to Southern California. Even better, he scored first out for Mandella in the 2015 American (G3).

Bal a Bali went on to place in four more graded turf stakes, chief among them last year’s Kilroe, as well as the San Gabriel (G2), Seabiscuit (G2), and San Francisco Mile (G3). His form tailed off as spring turned to summer, though, and his last-place effort in the June 25 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) on the dirt portended possibly the twilight of his career.

Acquired by Calumet, Bal a Bali was listed on the Lexington, Kentucky, institution’s stallion roster for 2017. A funny thing happened on the way to the breeding shed, so to speak. The seven-year-old was given more time, and over the winter, he began to train sharply.

Bettors were cool toward Bal a Bali in his Kilroe comeback, sending him off as the 9-1 longest shot on the board. What to expect off an eight-month layoff from a horse who was once an amazing talent, but now appeared past his prime?

Bal a Bali does have a history of running well fresh, however, and with new rider Javier Castellano aboard, the Brazilian import struck top form.

Defending Kilroe champion What a View tried to spring another wire job. Rattling off fractions of :23.40, :46.89, and 1:10.12, the Cal-bred appeared safely clear at the eighth-pole. But Bal a Bali, always within striking range, caught fire down the lane. The dark bay made up a 2 1/2-length deficit inside the final furlong to deny What a View by a head in a final time of 1:33.86.

The former Brazilian Horse of the Year made himself a millionaire, and rewarded his loyalists with a $21.20 win mutuel. His scorecard now stands at 23-14-1-4, $1,003,823.

“The horse got sour last year,” Mandella said, “and with a little time off and some freshening up, he responded and came back good.”

“I give all the credit to Mr. Mandella and what he did; the way he trained the horse,” said Castellano, who notched a Grade 1 double aboard Shaman Ghost in the ensuing Santa Anita H. (G1).

“He came from way back and gave a great performance. Richard kind of told me how to ride the horse a little bit. I did my homework, watched past races, handicapped the race. Everything turned out well, worked out great. I’m very fortunate and was very lucky to ride this horse.”

What a View’s trainer, Kenny Black, was rightly proud of his horse’s effort while feeling the sting of a tough beat.

“That is just brutal. I thought he was home free turning for home. It looked like Tyler (Baze) had a ton of horse. This horse has gotten really good, that’s obviously the best race he’s ever run.”

Bolo reported home third, followed by Ring Weekend, the 2015 Kilroe winner; 5-2 favorite Conquest Enforcer, who tired after chasing What a View; and Dortmund, who just never looked comfortable trying to transfer his dirt game to the grass. He gave way on the far turn and was a detached last.

One of Kaleem Shah’s horses who were all transferred from Bob Baffert, Dortmund was making his first start for Art Sherman here. The idea was to try the son of Big Brown on the turf, believing that was a gentler comeback spot than the strenuous seven-furlong dirt test of the Triple Bend (G1). The turf experiment is officially over.

“It was kind of a bad mistake,” Sherman offered, “but you don’t know until you try him. He’ll be on the dirt from now on.”

“He was not (comfortable) on the turf,” jockey Victor Espinoza said. “I think he should go back to dirt again and recover, recuperate, and I think he’s going to run big on the dirt. Big difference when you take them off the turf to the dirt. We’ll be ready for the next one.”

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