A yielding turf course arguably proved the waterloo for 7-5 favorite A Thread of Blue in Saturday’s $500,000 Penn Mile (G2), but conditions suited John C. Oxley’s Moon Colony just fine. Trained by Mark Casse, who sends out Preakness (G1) star War of Will in next Saturday’s Belmont (G1), the 9-1 shot rallied up the inside to earn his first stakes victory.
Moon Colony, a May 11 foal, was freshened after a closing fifth in the January 5 Kitten’s Joy at Gulfstream Park. Although he had something to find on form, he sported a Keeneland maiden win on soft ground last October as well as a strong pedigree. The Uncle Mo colt is out of Grade 2 winner and multiple Grade 1-placed Promenade Girl, making him a half-brother to multiple Grade 1 star and $2 million-earner Cavorting.
And if you pay close attention to jockey bookings, the presence of Julien Leparoux was a tip.
“Tonight’s a big night at Churchill Downs,” Casse noted, “and he’s one of the leading riders there right now, and to give up a big night of racing to ride a 10-1 shot tells you something.”
A Thread of Blue was perched in second early, tracking Real News through fractions of :22.71, :47.60, and 1:12.63. But the 122-pound co-highweight could not maintain his position and beat a retreat. The other co-highweight, Forty Under, also folded and ended up last in the seven-horse field.
Real News continued to hold sway passing the eighth-pole. By that point, Moon Colony was gaining along the rail and soon drove 1 1/4 lengths clear. The bay negotiated the soggy mile at Penn National in 1:37.45.
Casa Creed, who’d won the aforementioned Kitten’s Joy, overhauled Real News for second. A Thread of Blue trudged in a further 4 3/4 lengths adrift in fourth, and there was the same break back to fifth-placer Fluminense. The Black Album was a distant sixth, followed by Conative and Forty Under. Empire of War was scratched.
Moon Colony sparked a $21.60 win payout while improving his resume to 7-3-0-0, $370,635.
“You know what? He’s a pretty good horse,” Casse said. “He was kind of an underachiever early on. I thought his last race at Gulfstream (fifth in the Kitten’s Joy) was really good. We brought him home to our training center (in Ocala, Florida) and I saw a different horse. I thought he’d run really well.
“What made me really feel good – he was sitting there and Julien had a lot of horse. He had a really good work at Belmont with an older horse named Mo Diddley, and he kind of played with Mo Diddley, and Mo Diddley ran seven-eighths (winning) at Belmont yesterday in 1:21. To outwork an older horse like that, I knew he was sitting on a really good race.”
“Mark was telling me how good he’s been breezing,” Leparoux said. “Today, it worked out perfectly. We had a great trip on the fence. It worked out perfect today.
“I wanted to save the ground. With the one hole, anyway, it was the best thing to do. I kind of made one run. We went pretty quick the first part of the race, so that was good for me. By the half-mile pole I was just cruising behind them. I just needed room. The draw worked out perfect because the 2 the 3 and 4 were favorites, so I was behind good horses, and it just opened up for me. It was a perfect trip.”
While the $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) on July 6 is the next eye-catching spot for the U.S. three-year-old turf set, the Penn Mile contestants could loom larger in the August 11 Secretariat (G1), now that the Arlington Million Day contest has been trimmed to a mile.
Moon Colony’s time was almost two full seconds faster than 1-10 favorite Regal Glory’s clocking of 1:39.43 in the $200,000 Penn Oaks. The clear form choice as the runner-up in the recent Appalachian (G2) at Keeneland and the Sweetest Chant (G3) two back at Gulfstream, the Chad Brown trainee galloped by 2 3/4 lengths with Luis Saez aboard. Alasaayil performed up to her status as the 7-2 second choice, easily best of the rest from Jennifer’s Dream.
“I had a lot of horse all the way,” Saez recapped. “She broke pretty good; she was right there. The number 5 (Alasaayil) came out and took a good spot, and I just let her go because I knew I had a lot of horse for the stretch. She was pretty nice, pretty comfortable. When she came to the stretch and switched the lead, she was running. I was saving it. When you’re winning so easily like that, it’s better to save it for the next race.”
“I thought she ran huge because she was four-wide basically the whole way,” said Brown, who also won Saturday’s Pennine Ridge (G3) with Demarchelier. “Through no fault of the jockey, it just worked out that way from her post (5 in a six-horse field). I felt Luis did a good job of timing it right and she just proved much the best that trip. I was very impressed with her race. I think it’s her best race to date. She ran great. We’re real happy with her. We’ll get her back home and try to plan the next move.”
Regal Glory captured her two starts as a juvenile, romping in her Belmont debut and adding last November’s Stewart Manor at Aqueduct. The daughter of Animal Kingdom has bankrolled $274,250 from a 5-3-2-0 record.
The Paul Pompa Jr. homebred is a half-sister to multiple Grade 3 winner Night Prowler, who missed by a head in the 2015 Penn Mile. They were produced by another Pompa runner, Grade 2 victress Mary’s Follies by More Than Ready.
Earlier on Penn National’s stakes-laden card, Patricia Generazio’s homebred Pure Sensation was all heart to hold on in the $97,000 Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup. The Christophe Clement veteran sprinted through splits of :22.21 and :45.59, then dug in resiliently as Completed Pass erased his margin. The eight-year-old warrior refused to yield and kept his neck in front, finishing five furlongs in :58.03
“He knows his job,” winning rider Kendrick Carmouche said. “He’s an old horse. He’s a fighter. Standing in the gate perfect, I just had to point him forward and he went from there. He broke just so sharp and the race was controlled from there. It’s always good to get on my boy. He knows me and I know him. We’re like friends. We go sit down and eat dinner and talk (stuff) together.”
“I felt him (Completed Pass) come, but the wire was coming quicker. I would like to say thanks to Patricia Generazio and Christophe Clement. They’ve done a good job getting this horse back to the races. I appreciate it.”
“He doesn’t need much training,” assistant trainer Christophe Lorieul said. “He’s always straightforward. He loves his job, and what’s good about him is once he gets his neck to the front, he’s hard to come by. He’s been very good to us and I remember when he was a 2-year-old, he won trial races at Saratoga. It was a long time ago. He’s put it together. He’s good to us. Just take care of him and he’ll show it on the racetrack.
“Yeah, I was a bit concerned about the yielding turf. I got here this morning. I walked the turf course. Luckily they had moved the rail, so we had the fresh turf course in the 1-2-3 paths, but, still, they had quite a bit of rain on Thursday. I think he always shows a much better turn of foot – at least to his liking – when it’s rock hard.
“We didn’t know what to do, and then we got here this morning, and I said, ‘You know what? I think we’ll take a shot because that turf course is very similar to (Parx). They cut the grass really low, and then stick to the rail. As the 1 horse, we didn’t have to go to the outside and be on that ground. So it worked out today.”
The Parx reference is apt, since Pure Sensation is a three-time winner of the Turf Monster H. (G3) (2015, 2017-18) and twice successful in the Parx Dash (G3) (2016-17). His other graded score came in the 2016 Jaipur (G3) in a record 1:06.76 over six furlongs on Belmont’s Widener turf. The Zensational gelding has compiled a mark of 32-12-5-6, $1,653,550, reflecting a total of nine stakes wins and eight stakes placings, chief among them the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1).
Pure Sensation has competed in the past three runnings of the Jaipur, but passed on making it four by coming to Penn National instead. Stablemate Disco Partner has been unassailable in the Jaipur the last two years, and Lorieul explained that connections wanted to separate the gray sprinters.
“Usually they both run in the Jaipur. The Jaipur is next week. This year, Mr. and Mrs. Generazio decided to split them up, so we’re doing everything we can to split them up.”