LNJ Foxwoods’ United was already the class of the field in Saturday’s $201,000 John Henry Turf Championship (G2), and the 7-10 favorite magnified that advantage by dictating the pace at Santa Anita.
Last time out, when reserved off the early crawl, United was upset by a head in the Aug. 22 Del Mar H. (G2). That ended a three-race winning spree, along with costing him a fees-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
Regular rider Flavien Prat averted a similar scenario in an otherwise paceless John Henry, and wisely made the most of United’s big, lumbering gallop. Clear through an opening quarter in :24.57 on the firm course, the Richard Mandella charge gradually wound it up through fractions of :49.07, 1:13.20, and 1:36.46.
United entered the stretch just hitting top stride, and the closers were up against it as he tossed out his last quarter in :22.71 to finish in 1:59.17. Originaire, nestled a couple of lengths astern in midpack, parlayed his position into a second placing, a neck up on Another Mystery who was rallying from further back. Next came Proud Pedro, Oscar Dominguez, and early stalkers Salvator Mundi and Next Shares. Kazan was a vet scratch.
Last year’s Turf near-misser, United will have to pay his way in, since the John Henry is not part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series. But at least it served as the needed stepping stone to Keeneland.
“We’re gonna blow their tires off,” Mandella quipped of United’s upcoming tilt at the Turf.
“He just continues to show what a professional he is now,” Mandella said. “He can adapt to certain situations. He is a big, lumbering stride horse and if you get him tied up too much it’s hard to get him going, so it’s better to keep him in the clear. Flavien did a fabulous job.”
Prat was reliving what happened in the Del Mar ‘Cap.
“The other day I got trapped on the inside with no pace and I couldn’t go anywhere. Today, I decided if he broke well, I would put him in the race. On paper it seemed like there was no speed, so I thought maybe I could try to take the lead. He was traveling well. I loved the way he was galloping and he made a good move as always down the lane.
“Ever since he ran in the (2019) Breeders’ Cup, where he was a longshot (51-1), he just keeps moving up. It seems like he’s improving a lot and I’m really enjoying what he’s doing.”
Indeed, United placed in his first two stakes appearances in the 2019 Charles Whittingham (G2) and the John Henry, and now he’s won both this campaign. Beaten only a head by Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar in the Turf, and a close second in the Hollywood Turf Cup (G2), United broke through in the Feb. 1 San Marcos (G2). He shipped to Dubai for the Sheema Classic (G1), only to fly back home after World Cup night was canceled by COVID, and returned to land the Whittingham.
United successfully shortened up in the 1 1/8-mile Eddie Read (G2) and briefly flirted with a switch to dirt for the Pacific Classic (G1) before sticking to turf for the Del Mar ‘Cap. The 5-year-old sports a mark of 16-7-4-1, $1,413,549.
Bred by Rosemont Farm in Kentucky, United sold for $240,000 as a Keeneland November weanling and $300,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling. The Giant’s Causeway gelding is a half-brother to Grade 3 scorer Harlan Punch, Louisiana-bred stakes vixen Tensas Punch, and Irish Group 3-placed Royal Navy Ship, all produced by the Pulling Punches mare Indy Punch.
The companion $300,500 Rodeo Drive (G1) is a “Win and You’re In” for the Filly & Mare Turf (G1), and George Krikorian’s homebred Mucho Unusual employed similar, if slower, front-running tactics to book her spot. There was a notable vet scratch in Yellow Ribbon H. (G2) winner Bodhicitta, but her absence didn’t affect the key race dynamic – Mucho Unusual as the controlling speed.
Under a superb ride by Juan Hernandez, who was winning for the third time on the card, the Tim Yakteen filly cruised to the lead passing the stands for the first time. Mucho Unusual relegated the keen Tonahutu to second through an opening quarter in :24.29, slowed it down at the half in :49.52, began to pick up by the 6-furlong mark in 1:14.07, and quickened to achieve separation through the mile in 1:37.28.
The 2.90-1 Maxim Rate advanced from a stalking third, and 7-5 favorite Lady Prancealot made valiant headway from last, but the 3.40-1 Mucho Unusual had been given too much rope. Still full of run for the final quarter in :22.91, the California-bred maintained a 1 1/4-length margin while clocking 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.19. Runner-up Maxim Rate was a length up on Lady Prancealot, trailed by Tonahutu, Pretty Point, and Catch the Eye.
“They let me go to the lead easily, so I took it,” Hernandez said, “and then the rest of the race the filly did by herself. She’s a really nice filly. When I asked her to run at the stretch, she responded really well.
“It means a lot. It is my first Grade 1. I always wanted to win a Grade 1, I always tried really hard, but I couldn’t. Today was the day.”
Mucho Unusual was earning a first Grade 1 victory for herself as well, and snapping a losing streak ever since her previous highlight in the 2019 San Clemente H. (G2). The daughter of Mucho Macho Man’s resume reads 16-5-3-4, $702,715, also reflecting a score in last year’s Cal Cup Oaks and seven stakes placings. Most notably, Mucho Unusual was a close second to Lady Prancealot in the American Oaks (G1) here – her only other attempt at this distance – and third in the Gamely (G1) on Memorial Day. The 4-year-old was coming off a third in the restricted Solana Beach at Del Mar.
Out of the Unusual Heat mare Not Unusual, Mucho Unusual is a half-sister to Grade 3 winner Big Score.
Wesley Ward was already well positioned for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) with Golden Pal, but you can add Susan Moulton, Marc Detampel, and CJ Thoroughbreds’ Amanzi Yimpilo to his squad after she toppled males in the “Win and You’re In” Speakeasy Stakes.
Most recently third to Tobys Heart in the Bolton Landing at Saratoga, Amanzi Yimpilo took the blinkers off for this $102,000 prize. The 2.60-1 second choice broke alertly for Luis Saez, prompted the pace set by first-time starter No Pedigree, and wore him down to finish about 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02.77.
Wyfire rattled late on the outside to cut her margin to a head, and Windy City Red speared through the pack to snatch third another half-length back. Commander Khai, the 2.10-1 favorite, chased early and loomed in the lane but wound up fourth. No Pedigree tired to fifth, followed by fellow debuters The Great One and Basque Man. European import Feathers and Fury Kap rounded out the order under the wire.
“She was pretty nervous behind the gate, we had a little trouble, but I knew she was ready,” Saez said. “I could feel the power. She just broke very well and sat in a great spot which was the spot I was thinking to be in. When we came down the stretch she fought, she was a fighter and we got there. I had a feeling we would get it.”
Irish-bred Amanzi Yimpilo, a $300,000 Keeneland September yearling, has earned $94,200 from her 3-2-0-1 line. The chestnut wired a Gulfstream Park maiden at first asking June 10.
By No Nay Never, also the sire of Saturday’s Cheveley Park (G1) winner Alcohol Free, Amanzi Yimpilo is out of the Galileo mare Honourably. The juvenile’s fourth dam is influential matron Delsy, responsible for Darshaan and Darara.
Last year’s Speakeasy near-misser, Bulletproof One, opened the Saturday card with a display of raw speed in the Unzip Me Stakes. Trained by Peter Miller and ridden by Ricardo Gonzalez, the 17-10 favorite sprinted clear early and never looked back en route to zipping about 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:01.12.
Campaigned by Gary Barber, Cecil Barber, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, and Wachtel Stable, Bulletproof One has compiled a mark of 14-7-2-0, $361,162. The California-bred daughter of Idiot Proof captured a pair of restricted stakes on the dirt last season, and placed second in the grassy Cal Cup Oaks, before finding her niche as a sprinter on synthetic and turf.
Assistant trainer Ruben Alvarado indicated that Bulletproof One would be seen in Kentucky soon.
“We are looking to run something short in Keeneland next.”