Favorites starred in a trio of turf stakes with Breeders’ Cup implications at Santa Anita Saturday. Mo Forza and United successfully defended their titles in the $200,000 City of Hope Mile (G2) and $203,500 John Henry Turf Championship (G2), respectively, and Going to Vegas punched her Filly & Mare Turf (G1) ticket in the “Win and You’re In” Rodeo Drive (G1).
City of Hope Mile (G2)
Defending champion and 3-5 favorite Mo Forza appeared to be up against it in midstretch, as pace factor Smooth Like Strait opened up by daylight. But the Peter Miller charge kicked into gear in time to prevail by a half-length in 1:32.45, and keep himself on course for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).
As both Miller and jockey Flavien Prat noted, the stop-start pace complicated Mo Forza’s task as a closer. Smooth Like Strait sped through an opening quarter on the firm course in :22.61, then dialed it back. Red Storm Risen advanced to press, and headed Smooth Like Strait at the half in :46.66. Smooth Like Strait upped the ante to regain the advantage through six furlongs in 1:08.98 and set sail for home.
Mo Forza was content to sit at or near the back of the quintet until the far turn, when Prat asked him to go. The son of Uncle Mo soon rolled into third, but gave the impression of flattening out on his left lead, with 3 1/2 lengths still to make up. Inside the final sixteenth, Mo Forza summoned extra to pass the tiring Red Storm Risen and collar Smooth Like Strait.
Also finding his best stride late was third-placer Hit the Road, who just missed second by a head. The City of Hope Mile trifecta had a sense of déjà vu, for the same rivals filled the same places in the Aug. 21 Del Mar Mile (G2). Red Storm Risen faded to fourth, and Order and Law trailed.
Mo Forza was giving Miller a birthday present.
“I was very worried the first minute and 30 seconds,” the trainer told Santa Anita publicity. “I felt a lot better the last 2 1/2 seconds. The pace was quick in the early going, then it slowed down and then they picked it up again.
“I didn’t have any pre-race instructions for Flavien. I left the plans in Flavien’s hands.”
Prat commented on the race shape, and Mo Forza’s willingness:
“It was a bit of an awkward race. First quarter was pretty fast, I felt like it was pretty fast. Then we hit the first turn and slowed down a lot, then we got to the backside and took off again, so it was a bit of an awkward race. After that they all came up to me around the far turn, I was trying to get him together, to regroup and get a good run down the lane and that’s what he did. He showed a lot of class today.
“He’s definitely one who always gives you everything. He has a great turn of foot and it’s always a pleasure riding him.”
Campaigned by breeder Bardy Farm, the nom de course of the late Barry Abrams, and OG Boss, Mo Forza has won four straight, and eight of his last nine. The bay burst onto the scene in 2019 with scores in the Hollywood Derby (G1), Twilight Derby (G2), and Mathis Brothers Mile (G2). His progress was interrupted when ninth in the 2020 Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1).
Mo Forza resurfaced from a layoff to turn the Del Mar Mile/City of Hope double last year, only to be sidelined before the Breeders’ Cup. The five-year-old returned to defend his title in the Del Mar Mile, achieved the same double here, and hopes to get his long-awaited Breeders’ Cup chance.
Out of the Unusual Heat mare Inflamed, Mo Forza is now a millionaire with $1,034,460 in earnings from a 14-8-3-1 line.
“This horse is continuing Barry’s legacy,” brother David Abrams said. “He means the world to us. He runs with an angel on his shoulder, I truly believe that. Look at his last two races – that’s Barry bringing him home.”
John Henry Turf Championship (G2)
Later in the John Henry, Prat similarly galvanized 7-5 favorite United to get up in a thriller over pacesetter Acclimate and fellow closer Friar’s Road. The Richard Mandella veteran was prepping for his third straight tilt at the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
As expected, Acclimate set a rollicking tempo of . Neptune’s Storm chased until entering the stretch, when Acclimate put him away. Then Award Winner sneaked through on the rail to confront the leader, and Acclimate parried his thrust as well.
LNJ Foxwoods’ United finally began to deploy his big frame from off the pace. Just as the Giant’s Causeway gelding lurched forward on the outside, Friar’s Road saved all the ground turning for home and speared through the back. Both were gaining furiously on Acclimate, and the triumvirate crossed the wire abreast.
Track announcer Frank Mirahmadi called it for United on the spot, and the camera vindicated him. By a nose, United scored a repeat in the 1 1/4-mile John Henry, only this time in a much faster 1:58.41. His time a year ago, with a tepid pace scenario, was 1:59.17.
Acclimate salvaged second by a nose from Friar’s Road. Award Winner checked in fourth, followed by Master Piece, Cupid’s Claws, Red King, Ready Soul, Neptune’s Storm, Count of Amazonia, Camino del Paraiso, and Media Blitz. K P All Systems Go was scratched.
United’s seventh career stakes trophy enhanced his resume to 22-10-4-1, $1,813,549. A near-upsetter of Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Turf, United landed the 2020 San Marcos (G2), Charles Whittingham (G2), Eddie Read (G2), and John Henry before winding up eighth in the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland.
The six-year-old returned triumphant in the Mar. 20 San Luis Rey (G3), but was a subpar last of four in the May 29 Whittingham. Rebounding to win another Eddie Read on July 24, United was bedeviled by trouble when fourth in the Aug. 21 Del Mar H. (G2) last out.
Bred by Rosemont Farm in Kentucky, United sold for $240,000 as a weanling at Keeneland November and for $300,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling. His dam, the Pulling Punches mare Indy Punch, is responsible for three other stakes performers, notably Grade 3 scorer Harlan Punch. This is the immediate family of Grade 1-winning sire Liaison and current Mother Goose (G2) heroine Zaajel.
Rodeo Drive (G1)
The 11-10 favorite after a convincing score in the Sept. 4 John C. Mabee (G2) at Del Mar, Going to Vegas wasted no time establishing control in the $302,000 Rodeo Drive. Jockey Umberto Rispoli nursed her along through splits of :24.35, :48.72, and 1:13.49, and the Richard Baltas filly had enough in reserve to repel challenges.
The first came from the stalking Neige Blanche on the far turn. Going to Vegas rebuffed her in short order by the mile in 1:36.35, only to have stablemate Luck emerge as a threat down the lane. As Luck tried to accelerate like her “aunt,” Goldikova, she forced Going to Vegas to keep digging to stave her off. The favorite just held Luck at bay by a head while finishing 1 1/4 miles in 1:58.84.
The Baltas exacta had 1 1/2 lengths to spare over Dogtag, who was always thereabouts in a one-paced third. Next came Neige Blanche, Rideforthecause, a lackluster Magic Attitude, Red Lark, slow-starting Crystalle, and Fast Jet Court.
Abbondonza Racing, Medallion Racing, and MyRacehorse’s Going to Vegas has compiled a mark of 22-7-8-2, $634,151. Baltas claimed the bay for $50,000 out of a win here in June 2020, and the daughter of Goldencents developed into a graded stakes performer last fall. Runner-up in the Autumn Miss (G3), Red Carpet H. (G3), and American Oaks (G1), Going to Vegas notched her first stakes victory in the Mar. 27 Santa Ana (G3) at this course and distance.
Bred by J. Kirk and Judy Robison in Kentucky, Going to Vegas was produced by the stakes-winning Johannesburg mare Hard to Resist. She is not currently Breeders’ Cup-eligible, but connections indicated that she would be supplemented. Baltas added that Luck is likewise bound for the Filly & Mare Turf.