December 8, 2023

Santin fends off Mira Mission in Turf Classic

Santin ridden by Tyler Gaffalione wins the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs (Photo by

After the inexperienced Santin ran creditably, if not up to his full potential, in two graded stakes at Fair Grounds, trainer Brendan Walsh added blinkers for Saturday’s $1 million Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs. The equipment change worked. The Godolphin homebred showed a new resolve to repel Mira Mission, scoring his first stakes victory on the big stage of Kentucky Derby Day.

As projected pacesetter Tribhuvan went forward, Santin broke alertly for Tyler Gaffalione, who had the 7.10-1 chance perfectly placed in a tracking second. Tribhuvan tried to put the race away after splits of :24.39, :49.02, and 1:13.13. But Santin lifted his game, covered his move, and the longtime leader weakened out of contention.

No sooner had Santin struck the front than he was accosted by the wider-rallying Mira Mission. That 8.80-1 shot appeared to have Santin in his grasp. Yet the newly-focused four-year-old knuckled down under pressure and fended him off by a neck. Completing 1 1/8 miles on the firm course in 1:49.72, Santin rewarded his loyalists with a $16.20 win payout.

The top two pulled six lengths clear of 2.40-1 favorite Adhamo, in a substantial form reversal from Fair Grounds. Shirl’s Speight reported home fourth, followed by Tribhuvan, Public Sector, Bizzee Channel, Cavalry Charge, and the eased Kentucky Ghost, who was vanned off. Ivar was withdrawn.

Santin was the second Walsh pupil to capture a Derby weekend stakes in first-time blinkers, after New Year’s Eve in Friday’s Edgewood (G2). Unraced until the fall of his sophomore season, Santin quickly made up for lost time by winning his first two starts. He took a significant class hike in the Nov. 27 Hollywood Derby (G1), where he motored late to miss by only a neck.

The Distorted Humor colt was bet down to favoritism in both of his Fair Grounds appearances, but couldn’t quite justify his status. He got going a bit too late when fourth, beaten all of a half-length, in the Feb. 19 Fair Grounds (G3) (just behind runner-up Adhamo). Santin chased in second at every call in the Mar. 26 Muniz Memorial Classic (G2), lost ground to frontrunning Two Emmys, but reduced the gap to 2 1/2 lengths at the wire. With his Turf Classic breakthrough, he sports a mark of 6-3-2-0, $813,200.

“We’ve thought this was a special horse,” Walsh said, “and I think we’re starting to see the start of something big here. He’s still just a baby; he’s only had six starts now. And he’s in here running against ones with 10, 12, 15 starts. We were letting him come along at his own pace, but we gave him some help to focus with the blinkers today. The people down at my barn have brought him along. I just happen to be there.”

Gaffalione commented that the headgear made the difference.

“It seems like in his races before, we were leaving him too much to do,” the winning rider said. “It takes him time to get going. Brendan suggested putting the blinkers on him, and he worked with them, and you see the result today. He’s really a fighter and coming along nicely.” 

The Kentucky-bred Santin is out of the fine turf mare Sentiero Italia. A Medaglia d’Oro half-sister to Grade 1 winner Ashkal Way, Sentiero Italia was a multiple Grade 2 victress who placed in the 2015 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) and 2016 Flower Bowl (G1). Further back, this is the family of Grade 1-winning sire Flower Alley as well as Japanese Grade 1 heroes Spielberg and Tosen Ra.