Zedan Racing Stables’ Arabian Knight was sidelined through Triple Crown season, but the highly regarded three-year-old emerged as a Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) contender with a determined front-running decision in Saturday’s “Win and You’re In” Pacific Classic (G1).
Arabian Knight was slightly favored to turn the tables on fellow sophomore Geaux Rocket Ride, who handed him his first loss in the Haskell (G1). The market had it nailed, as the 2.10-1 Arabian Knight fended off the 2.20-1 Geaux Rocket Ride by a neck in Del Mar’s $1,002,500 signature race.
A record seventh Pacific Classic winner trained by Bob Baffert, Arabian Knight is only his second sophomore to prevail, following General Challenge (1999). The Uncle Mo colt joins a select list of three-year-olds to defeat elders here, including Hall of Famer Best Pal (in the 1991 inaugural), Came Home (2002), Dullahan (in the Polytrack era in 2012), and champion Shared Belief (2014).
Jockey Flavien Prat, who rode Horse of the Year Flightline in his other-worldly romp in last year’s Pacific Classic, had to work harder in the saddle in this far more competitive renewal. Prat was winning for the third time, his first coming courtesy of Higher Power in 2019.
Arabian Knight has sparked lofty expectations ever since topping the 2022 OBS Spring Sale at $2.3 million. Romping in his debut on Breeders’ Cup Saturday at Keeneland last November, the bay easily handled his first two-turn and stakes test in the Jan. 28 Southwest (G3) at a sloppy Oaklawn Park. He switched to the Tim Yakteen barn to aim for the Kentucky Derby (G1), only to drop off the trail on account of lackluster training.
The 1 1/8-mile Haskell was therefore a daunting task, as his comeback from a nearly six-month layoff. Early pace pressure at Monmouth Park added to his difficulties, and he understandably tired to third behind Geaux Rocket Ride. Still, the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Pacific Classic was a new frontier, especially for a colt making his fourth career start.
Arabian Knight used his weapon, early speed, to maximum effect. Going straight to the front through an opening quarter in :23.55, he edged away from would-be presser Piroli by the half in :46.60, and maintained his one-length advantage through six furlongs in 1:11.42.
The next challenger to present himself was Slow Down Andy, who advanced rounding the far turn and accosted Arabian Knight at the mile mark in 1:36.83. As that sectional illustrates, the pace was slackening, as Arabian Knight took :25.41 to complete the fourth quarter. For a few strides, the favorite appeared possibly vulnerable, but he kicked on better than Slow Down Andy upon straightening. Indeed, Slow Down Andy lived up to his name by apparently reaching his stamina limit just as he almost had Arabian Knight on the ropes, although the six-pound weight concession may have factored too.
Then came the final, and most dangerous, challenge in the form of Geaux Rocket Ride. Angling out after a ground-saving, stalking trip, the son of 2003 Pacific Classic record-setter Candy Ride hinted that he could uncork a late rally. Geaux Rocket Ride did inch closer in the final furlong, but lacked his verve of Monmouth over a distance that was arguably stretching him as well. To his credit, the Richard Mandella pupil reached to the very end and came up just short.
Although Arabian Knight was on fumes himself through a final quarter in :26.36, he had taken the rest out of their comfort zone, and no one could catch him in 2:03.19. He could be stronger with the benefit of this experience.
Slow Down Andy crossed the wire another 1 1/4 lengths adrift in third. Late-running Senor Buscador was along for fourth. Skinner, who briefly cut his deficit on the far turn, trudged on in fifth. Next came Baffert’s Grade 1 veteran Defunded in a non-threatening sixth, trailed by Piroli, Tripoli, and the eased pair of Order and Law and Stilleto Boy. The awkwardly-starting Stilleto Boy did not actually finish, but did walk of the track, according to the chart. Katonah, a vet scratch, had been announced as an absentee by trainer Doug O’Neill.
Arabian Knight now boasts a 4-3-0-1 record with a bankroll to the tune of $1,244,275. Bred by Corser Thoroughbreds in Kentucky, he originally sold for $250,000 as a Keeneland September yearling to Scott and Evan Dilworth. He was a pinhook superstar when resold through the Top Line Sales consignment at OBS.
Arabian Knight’s dam, the Astrology mare Borealis Night, is a half-sister to the graded placed duo of Spooky Woods and Kinsey Kisses. The catalog page is rather light, but if you trace the female line back a long way, it’s a lesser branch of the illustrious 23-b family. Arabian Knight is a direct matrilineal descendant of Mannie Gray, the dam of Domino.