The first confirmed spot for the 2023 Breeders’ Cup has gone to a horse that had never won a stakes race prior to the weekend.
The Punisher, in the hands of jockey Martin Valle, earned a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) after a hard-fought victory in the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini (G1) Saturday at San Isidro racecourse in Buenos Aires.
The Punisher went into South America’s most prestigious race at 20-1 odds. All of his previous five starts had been on the San Isidro turf, and he’d won two of them, both at about one mile and neither at stakes level.
When he had raced against top company against his own age, he had performed well without getting close to winning. He finished fourth in the Gran Premio Dos Mil Guineas (the Argentine 2000 Guineas) (G1), and then third in the Gran Premio Jockey Club (G1) over about 1 1/4 miles.
In the latter he finished behind El Musical, one of the most consistent three-year-olds in Argentina. El Musical had won the Gran Premio Polla de Potrancas (G1) on dirt and then finished second in both the Gran Premio Jockey Club and the Gran Premio Nacional (G1) over about 1 1/2 miles on dirt, and it was he that The Punisher had to battle.
At the post, however, it was The Punisher who came out on top by three-quarters of a length to give Valle and trainer Carlos Etchechoury consecutive wins in the Carlos Pellegrini following the victory of Village King last year.
The Punisher and El Musical had the finish to themselves, drawing four lengths clear of third placegetter El Cid Campeador. Don Tigre was fourth, with last year’s Gran Premio Nacional winner Irwin putting up a great effort for fifth in what was his first start since failing in the UAE Derby (G2) in Dubai in March.
Unfortunately, the short-priced favorite Durazzo, who had won six races on end including three Group 1 triumphs coming into the race, suffered a fracture when beginning to mount his challenge at the top of the stretch. The four-year-old was dismounted well before the finish and taken away by ambulance, and was set to require a long recovery.
Mirinaque, runner-up in 2019 and 2021, was also well fancied but ran below his best and finished eighth.
The Punisher is by Cityscape, a British-bred son of Selkirk whose greatest moment on the track came when he won the 2012 Dubai Duty Free (now the Dubai Turf) (G1) on World Cup night. He has been a successful sire in Argentina, siring 23 stakes winners, among them four Grade 1 winners. His Northern Hemisphere-bred progeny include the consistent Hong Kong galloper Ka Ying Star.
The Punisher’s dam O.K. Angie is by Orpen, a Group 1-winning son of Lure, out of the U.S.-bred mare Angie Oakley, a daughter of Mr. Greeley.
Winners of the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini haven’t often taken their place in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, but if The Punisher makes his way to Santa Anita he would definitely add some interest.