July 18, 2024

Ancient Rome invades to conquer Mint Millions

Ancient Rome wins the Mint Millions at Kentucky Downs (Photo by Coady Photography)

British shipper Ancient Rome returned to his native place to plunder the $1,994,285 Mint Millions (G3), one of a trio of richly endowed stakes at Kentucky Downs on Saturday.

Once a French-based classic competitor for Coolmore, Mrs. Fitri Hay’s Ancient Rome is now 2-for-2 since transferring to Charlie Hills. The resurgent son of War Front debuted for the yard in a 1 1/4-mile handicap Aug. 1 at Glorious Goodwood, where he swooped from the rear under a patented Jamie Spencer ride. Connections had already circled this lucrative target in his datebook, and the plan came to fruition.

Shortening up to a mile in quicker conditions here, Ancient Rome showed tactical finesse by camping just a couple of lengths off the pace for Spencer. Early leader Stitched, a 24-1 longshot despite coming off an upset of the Wise Dan (G2), was subjected to unrelenting pressure as he clocked :22.61, :46.59, and 1:10.27 on the firm course.

Most of that pressure came from Smokin’ T, who continued to threaten in the stretch. Annapolis, the 1.14-1 favorite, attempted to make his presence felt. But he didn’t appear to be going well enough to challenge, and the gap closed on him as Ancient Rome bore down on the outside. Annapolis ended up steadying behind the other two War Fronts, Ancient Rome and Smokin’ T.

Ancient Rome got up by a half-length in 1:33.37, paying $15.32 as the 6.66-1 fourth choice. Stitched withstood Smokin’ T for runner-up honors to thwart a War Front exacta. Atone, who had been prominent early before easing back, rattled late in fourth. Annapolis, Dhabab, Max K. O., Hozier, Gray’s Fable, Get Her Number, Cabo Spirit, and the eased Churchtown concluded the order of finish.

Ancient Rome boosted his bankroll to $1,528,148 from his 16-6-3-2 line. For original trainer Andre Fabre, the bay garnered the 2021 Prix des Chenes (G3), placed third in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1), and missed by a head in the Criterium International (G1). That made him an obvious contender for the 2022 classics, but he didn’t progress as hoped.

Fourth to future champion Modern Games in the French 2000 Guineas (G1) and ninth to Vadeni in the French Derby (G1), Ancient Rome resurfaced in March and won his comeback in a Chantilly conditions event. Hay acquired him after a near-miss in a similar Polytrack contest. Ancient Rome underachieved in his ensuing trio of black-type races, and his third in the July 16 Prix Messidor (G3) was his French finale.

Ancient Rome is a full brother to Group 3 vixen Etoile, the dam of current multiple stakes scorer and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1) hopeful No Nay Mets. Etoile and Ancient Rome are out of the Sadler’s Wells mare Gagnoa, herself a multiple Group 3 winner and classic-placed in both France and Ireland. Gagnoa is in turn a half to 2011 Epsom Derby (G1) victor Pour Moi, from the family of 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) winner Pizza Bianca.

Gun Runner S.

Talk of the Nation had less than ideal trips when runner-up in the June 3 Jersey Derby and July 7 Manila (G3), but the 1.37-1 favorite enjoyed a more straightforward passage in the $1 million Gun Runner S. The Shug McGaughey trainee engineered a stalk-and-pounce trip with Jose Ortiz and held the late rally of the 2.84-1 Wadsworth.

The top two are both sons of outstanding sire Quality Road. Aside from serving up the chalky exacta, Quality Road also factors as the paternal grandsire of the fourth-placer Gaslight Dancer, a City of Light colt who just missed third.

Campaigned by Joseph Allen and breeder CHC Inc., Talk of the Nation tracked front-running Smokey Mandate through rapid fractions of :22.86, :45.62, and 1:09.37 and took command down the long stretch. Although Wadsworth was winding up wider out and loomed dangerously, Talk of the Nation had enough in reserve to remain in control by a half-length. His time for the mile, 1:32.93, was faster than the Mint Millions and within hailing distance of the 1:32.21 course record established by Flavius in 2020.

“The other horse (Smokey Mandate) went to the lead, and I wanted to give him a target,” Ortiz recapped. “Last time (in the Manila), I went to the lead and he was pressed the whole way. He finished, he dug in (for second), but today I wanted him to be more relaxed. In the last race, I had a horse outside of me pressuring me every step of the way. Today, I had nobody outside, I could sit, I could move whenever I wanted. It worked out great.”

Smokey Mandate gamely salvaged third by a head from Gaslight Dancer. Highway Robber improved from last to take fifth, followed by Major Dude, Escape Artist, and Communication Memo. Both Tall Boy and Georgie W were vet scratches, the latter at the gate.

Talk of the Nation’s second stakes score enhanced his resume to 7-4-2-0, $778,610. The dark bay dominated when switching to turf at Tampa Bay Downs earlier this season, bolting up in a Feb. 4 allowance and capturing his stakes debut in the Columbia S.

The Kentucky-bred was produced by two-time Yellow Ribbon H. (G2) heroine She’s Not Here, a Street Cry mare who is a three-quarter sister to Hall of Famer Zenyatta. She’s Not Here is out of Where’s Bailey, a stakes-winning half-sister to Zenyatta as well as to multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Balance. This is also the immediate family of reigning Rebel (G2) victor and Kentucky Derby (G1) participant Confidence Game.

Music City S. (G3)

After hanging tough for third in the one-mile Lake George (G3) at Saratoga, Secret Money reveled on the cutback to a sprint in the $996,570 Music City (G3). The 5.49-1 chance muscled her way between rivals to earn her first stakes victory, and become the first North American graded winner for sire Good Samaritan.

Trained by Brendan Walsh for Fortune Farm, Robert G. Hahn, and Matthew Hand, Secret Money drafted within striking range of the leaders. Danse Macabre, the 3.04-1 favorite, monitored pacesetter Determined Jester through splits of :22.90 and :46.30. By the time Danse Macabre moved up to engage in upper stretch, Secret Money was probing for a seam. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione pointed her between Determined Jester and Danse Macabre, and she bravely split them to prevail. A length up on the wire, Secret Money negotiated 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.14.

Danse Macabre, spotting the winner six pounds as the 124-pound co-highweight, was an honorable second. Bling blew the break by rearing, but rallied for third. Determined Jester rounded out the superfecta. Next came L J’s Emma, Mohawk Trail, Jill Jitterbug, Malleymoo, Accede, Mammas Girl, American Apple, and Queen Picasso. The also-eligibles – Blind Spot, Showgirl Lynne B, Twice as Sweet, and Playlist – did not draw into the field.

Secret Money has now compiled a record of 6-3-0-1, $740,811. The $40,000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic juvenile broke her maiden sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs on the Keeneland turf Apr. 23, and she scored in an entry-level allowance in the same conditions at Churchill Downs May 20. The bay next tried stakes company in the June 25 Alywow S. at Woodbine, where she checked in a troubled fifth, before stretching out at the Spa.

Bred by WinStar Farm in Kentucky, Secret Money is out of 2002 Spinaway (G1) winner Awesome Humor. The Distorted Humor mare, who is also responsible for stakes scorer Thetrashmanscoming, hails from the family of Constitution.