March 28, 2023

Blackjackcat holds off Vyjack in Del Mar Mile

Blackjackcat has won three straight over a mile on turf ©BENOIT PHOTO

Al and Saundra Kirkwood’s homebred Blackjackcat, who fended off a returning Vyjack in the July 23 Wickerr, repeated the effort in Sunday’s $200,345 Del Mar Mile (G2) over the same course and distance.

Overlooked at 8-1 in the rematch against a presumably fitter Vyjack, the Mark Glatt trainee was now also taking on defending champion Midnight Storm, the 2-1 favorite; Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) and Shoemaker Mile (G1) hero Bal a Bali; and Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) near-misser Om, both at 3-1. Only Argentine champion Le Ken, off at 14-1 in his U.S. debut, was a higher price.

Blackjackcat proved that he was up to the task with a tactically astute ride by Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux. Not allowing Midnight Storm to get away with an uncontested lead after an initial quarter in :23.16, Blackjackcat was lapped onto him through splits of :46.88 and 1:10.32 on the firm course. Midnight Storm tried to dig in as they straightened for home, but weakened in midstretch.

As Blackjackcat wrested the lead, a scrum was breaking out behind him. Vyjack was pinned on the inside and wanting a way out, but Om, or more precisely his Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens, wasn’t inclined to give it to him. So Vyjack, under Flavien Prat, simply bulled a seam open, giving Om a hefty bump that briefly unbalanced him.

Vyjack now went after Blackjackcat, who would not be passed. Sticking his head out determinedly, he maintained that margin in a final time of 1:34.06.

Midnight Storm was beaten just 1 1/2 lengths in fourth, followed by the non-threatening Le Ken. Bal a Bali dropped out of contention after making an early move into third on the backstretch, losing position entering the far turn in a subpar performance.

Although an inquiry into the Vyjack maneuver ensued, the stewards found that it didn’t make a difference to the outcome and let the result stand. You can judge for yourself how much Om was affected, and whether the contact deprived him of his rightful chance:

Blackjackcat has now strung together two stakes wins in a row after previously being stuck on minor awards. Third in last year’s Los Alamitos Derby (G2) on dirt and Twilight Derby (G2) on turf, the Tale of the Cat gelding cut back to a turf sprint in the May 27 Daytona (G3) and took home the bronze again. Glatt tried him over a grassy mile in a Santa Anita second-level allowance, and he hasn’t lost since. His scorecard stands at 13-5-0-4, $353,270.

With a couple of the principals running below form, the Del Mar Mile may not be as sure a guide to the local contingent for the Breeders’ Cup as first thought. But we have seen that Blackjackcat isn’t to be underestimated.

The Kentucky-bred Blackjackcat is out of multiple stakes-winning Bootleg Annie, a well-named daughter of Go for Gin and multiple stakes scorer Shu Biz Annie.

Quotes from Del Mar

Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux on Blackjackcat: “I rode to my instructions. I was told to get into Midnight Storm’s jock and not get out. I did. He ran great.”

Winning trainer Mark Glatt: “We gave him a nice break after his three-year-old campaign, got a couple races in him at Santa Anita and finally settled on his best distance, which seems to be a flat mile. Last year we were in contention to win some of the Derbies we tried, but at a mile and an eighth they were just a hair too far for him. With a little rest after that three-year-old campaign he’s come back stronger and carries his weight better and he has proven me right.”

Hall of Famer Gary Stevens on the inquiry that didn’t help third-placer Om: “They (the stewards) asked me (on the phone) if I was going to be second. I told them I can’t say I was, but I can’t say I wasn’t. He (Vyjack) came over and hit me; threw my horse off stride and made me hit the saddle. Enough is enough.”

Jockey Rafael Bejarano on Midnight Storm, fourth as the favorite: “I think he was a little confused out there. He’s gone from dirt to grass and it seemed to take him some time to get his feet under him. But he ran well and he’ll be better next time.”