Saturday’s $401,035 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) appeared a straightforward spot for champion turf horse World Approval to prolong his winning streak, but when the 1-2 favorite uncharacteristically retreated on the backstretch, the Santa Anita prize was suddenly up for grabs. Rising to the occasion was 8-1 chance Bowies Hero, assisted by an all-star ride from Corey Nakatani.
World Approval appeared to be bumped on both sides coming out of the gate. Nevertheless, the reigning Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) winner shrugged it off and took up his customary stalking spot. New rider Flavien Prat, subbing for John Velazquez who was piloting Vino Rosso to a fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), had him “beautifully positioned” in fourth, as track announcer Michael Wrona commented.
Then the unexpected happened. After racing alongside Free Rose, World Approval failed to maintain his position as his rival advanced toward the leaders. Favorite backers may have hoped that it was patience by design. After all, front-running What a View had been whizzing through fractions of :22.79 and :45.56, attended by Om. Perhaps Prat was just letting Free Rose go into the teeth of that pace, at the six-furlong mark in 1:09.11? Yet World Approval, now finding himself in fifth, could not pick up as his rivals all around him were. The champion was inexplicably flat.
Nakatani, who had Bowies Hero parked in about the midpoint of the field, gave him his cue and slipped through to the inside of World Approval. Since Om had been racing a couple of paths outside of What a View, there was a seam for the taking. Nakatani steered right into the spot leaving the far turn, and Bowies Hero knifed between the tiring pair.
That was the winning move, for the other closers were fanning out wide. Next Shares was bearing down, and Channel Maker widest of all, but Bowies Hero would not be cut down. Crossing the wire a half-length in front, the Phil D’Amato charge completed the mile on turf, still rated firm before the worst of the rain hit, in 1:33.61.
Next Shares was the same margin ahead of Channel Maker. A further 2 3/4 lengths back came Syntax in fourth, followed by World Approval, Om, What a View, and Free Rose.
Owned by Agave Racing Stable, ERJ Racing, and Madaket Stables, Bowies Hero is an admirably consistent performer earning his first Grade 1 trophy. The son of 2005 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Artie Schiller has scored stakes victories in each season of racing, comprising the 2016 Del Mar Juvenile Turf and last year’s Mathis Brothers Mile (G2), Singletary, and Oceanside. Third in the Del Mar Derby (G2) and Twilight Derby (G2), the bay was most recently second to Om in the February 10 Thunder Road (G3). He’s now bankrolled $641,325 from his 13-6-1-2 line.
Bowies Hero was bred in Kentucky by Pope McLean, Pope McLean Jr., and Marc McLean. Failing to reach his reserve at a $16,000 bid as a Keeneland November weanling, he was sold for $17,000 at the same venue the following September. His last auction appearance came as a two-year-old in training at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May, where he was gaveled down for $32,000.
The first foal from the unraced Sky Mesa mare Remembered, Bowies Hero hails from the immediate family of current Cigar Mile (G1) winner Sharp Azteca and Grade 3 victor Firing Line, best known as the runner-up to American Pharoah in the 2015 Kentucky Derby (G1). Remembered is a half-sister to their dams, and to Grade 2 scorer Mint Lane. Bowies Hero’s fifth dam is Broodmare of the Year and Canadian champion Kamar.
Quotes from Santa Anita
Mark Martinez of co-owner Agave Racing Stable: “I think that was Billy Koch (of Little Red Feather Racing) that said he would spring the upset today.
“Corey had him sitting perfect and it was enough speed for him to run at. I was a little concerned with how soft the track might be but he took to it and it couldn’t have been a better ride. Incredible ride. And, obviously a great training job by Phil and his entire team.
“Well, we’ll just enjoy this one before making any plans but I will say this…I used to say he was an honest horse but now, he’s just a damn good horse.”
Trainer Phil D’Amato on Bowies Hero: “Tomorrow is my birthday (42) but we’ll celebrate it today. This horse competes every step of the way. He’s steadily progressing and today he showed he can compete amongst the elite in the turf mile division. Hat’s off to Corey and for helping this horse’s development.”
Winning rider Corey Nakatani: “It turned out perfect. Phil loved him today and he was right. This horse, when he makes the lead, he kinda grinds a little bit, so I just wanted to make sure he stayed focused. Anytime you’re able to ride and win these kinds of races on a big day like this, yeah, it’s really nice, especially when you’re not expected to win.
Jockey Flavien Prat on World Approval, fifth as the 1-2 favorite: “No, at no point did I feel like he was going to catch up and win. I had a good trip, I had a great pace in front of me but he just didn’t fire. That’s it.”