Thoroughbred racehorses rarely reach peak form at the age of seven, but after rolling to a comfortable repeat victory in the $200,000 Mac Diarmida (G2) at Gulfstream Park, it’s safe to say Zulu Alpha is an exception.
A former claimer, Zulu Alpha has slowly risen through the ranks for trainer Mike Maker, who kept the gelded son of Street Cry busy with nine races in 2019. Zulu Alpha thrived on his packed schedule, snatching three graded stakes triumphs, and he elevated his game to a new level on Jan. 25 when scoring a decisive victory in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1).
Zulu Alpha kept his momentum going into his Mac Diarmida title defense. Favored at even-money under jockey Tyler Gaffalione, Zulu Alpha was in no hurry to vie for supremacy in the 1 3/8-mile race, settling in eighth place with only one rival beaten as stablemate Morocco threw down fast fractions of :23.37, :46.49, and 1:11.65.
Zulu Alpha was still far back with three-eighths of a mile to run, but upon being steered to the far outside by Gaffalione, the gelding unleashed an eye-catching burst of acceleration to sweep past rivals and challenge for the lead. Fellow stretch runner Admission Office got the jump on Zulu Alpha and led at the eighth pole, but Zulu Alpha always had more momentum and pulled clear late to score by a length in 2:11.47.
“He’s incredible. He just gives you so much confidence and he’s so fun to ride,” Gaffalione told Gulfstream Park. “It was great because coming down the stretch for the first time I looked at the infield screen, I saw 23 (seconds for the first quarter) and I was smiling. I knew they were setting a nice tempo in front of me so I wasn’t too worried.”
Sadler’s Joy finished 3 3/4 lengths behind Admission Office in third place, while Channel Maker, Spooky Channel, A Thread of Blue, Nessy, Morocco, and Armistice Day trailed.
Owned by Michael M. Hui, Zulu Alpha boosted his career earnings to $2,021,714. Following the Mac Diarmida, Maker indicated the Old Forester Turf Classic (G1), Arlington Million (G1), and Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) are all on the horizon for Zulu Alpha’s 2020 campaign. A victory in one or more of these prestigious events would cement Zulu Alpha’s status as North America’s top male turf horse for 2020.
Earlier in the afternoon, another veteran of the Pegasus program struck gold in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Mile (G2). Pegasus World Cup (G1) runner-up Mr Freeze was favored at 27-10 in the dirt mile test and delivered a confident victory for trainer Dale Romans.
The result was never really in doubt. After pressuring Bodexpress and Rare Form through fractions of :23.27 and :45.32, Mr Freeze seized command on the far turn, rolled to a daylight advantage in midstretch, and widened his lead through the final furlong to win by three lengths over recent Fred W. Hooper (G3) winner Phat Man. The latter, in turn, pulled eight lengths clear of Hog Creek Hustle, a testament to the quality of Mr Freeze’s performance.
“This might be a breakthrough race for him,” Romans told Gulfstream Park. “I always thought there was more there.”
The favorite stopped the clock in 1:34.80 under jockey Manny Franco, while True Timber, Haikal, Rare Form, Expert, Do Share, Zenden, Forever Mo, and Bodexpress completed the order of finish.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen him turn the corner and just kick on and draw off from them,” Romans continued. “I think he needed that for his confidence probably. I think the Pegasus boosted his confidence a lot… He’s been invited to the Godolphin Mile ([G2] on Mar. 28 Dubai World Cup night at Meydan) so if he comes out of this well, that’s where we’ll head. Milers are great to have.”
A 5-year-old son of To Honor and Serve, Mr Freeze is owned by Jim Bakke and Gerald Isbister. The accomplished chestnut previously won the 2018 West Virginia Derby (G3) and 2019 Ack Ack (G3) while placing twice in Grade 1 company, good for earnings of $1,367,950.