September 26, 2023

Laurel River scores Pat O’Brien breakthrough, spot in BC Dirt Mile

Laurel River scampers clear in the Pat O'Brien (Photo © Benoit Photo)

After Cody’s Wish floored Jackie’s Warrior at Saratoga for Team Godolphin, their royal blue silks were on the receiving end of an upset at Del Mar on Saturday. Godolphin’s Speaker’s Corner was all the rage for the $252,200 Pat O’Brien (G2), but the New York shipper wilted to fourth behind the up-and-coming Laurel River in this “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).

A Juddmonte homebred trained by Bob Baffert, Laurel River was coming off a resounding one-mile allowance victory here in his July 31 reappearance. The blueblood son of Into Mischief had romped by 11 1/2 lengths over the same course and distance in his 2021 finale. His only prior stakes appearance was a second in the 6 1/2-furlong Laz Barrera (G3), albeit fresh off his maiden tally at three.

Hence the question was how Laurel River would handle Saturday’s simultaneous class hike and cutback from a mile to seven furlongs. The answer was, brilliantly.

Laurel River appeared ready to mix it up with Speaker’s Corner in the initial strides, but the 6.90-1 chance eased back into a tractable fourth for Juan Hernandez. The 1.10-1 Speaker’s Corner flashed speed through an opening quarter in :22.41, attended by Defunded, the better-backed Baffert at 5.40-1. The pace-pressing role was then taken up by Principe Carlo, who hounded the favorite through a half in :44.74.

Turning for home, Speaker’s Corner drifted out, and Laurel River had an inviting seam to exploit. Hernandez steered him through, and the race was over in a few rapid strides. Already two lengths clear by midstretch, Laurel River reached six furlongs in 1:08.91. American Theorem rallied, but couldn’t make a dent on the winner. Laurel River bounded home by 3 3/4 lengths while clocking seven furlongs in 1:21.37.

“I just told Juan, ‘Ride him to win,’ and that’s what he did,” Baffert said. “He just sat there and then he made that split. He has a lot of speed, but he’s going to be much more effective around two turns.”

American Theorem, the winner of the Bing Crosby (G1) and Triple Bend (G2) in his last pair, had to settle for second. Senor Buscador closed from even farther back to take third, relegating Speaker’s Corner to a weary fourth.

“I don’t know what was going on with this horse,” jockey Mike Smith said of Speaker’s Corner. “He was acting up. He got real hot in the warm-up. Then he was acting up again in the gate. He just wasn’t a happy horse today.”

Next came The Chosen Vron; Defunded; Get Her Number; C Z Rocket, the 2020 Pat O’Brien victor and last year’s runner-up; Principe Carlo; and Restrainedvengence.

Laurel River’s resume stands at 7-4-1-0, $314,620. The progressive four-year-old continues to have upside as he stretches back out. Note that he’s bred on the Into Mischief/Empire Maker cross that’s also responsible for promoted 2021 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mandaloun.

Laurel River is out of Calm Water, a full sister to multiple Grade 1 star Emollient and a half-sister to graded stakes performers Hofburg (third to Justify in the 2018 Belmont [G1]) and Courtier. Emollient is a successful broodmare herself, with three black-type offspring led by current Prix de Malleret (G2) heroine Raclette.