Santa Anita’s Grade 3 events for turf juveniles on Sunday produced Breeders’ Cup contenders, as heavy favorites Packs a Wahlop and Comanche Country remained unbeaten on the Southern California circuit.
Both were turning a stakes double that kicked off in the companion events on Del Mar’s closing weekend. Packs a Wahlop dominated Sunday’s $203,000 Zuma Beach (G3) much as he had the Del Mar Juvenile Turf. Comanche Country, winner of the Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf, was once again along in time in the $201,500 Surfer Girl (G3).
Zuma Beach (G3)
Even-money choice Packs a Wahlop worked out a broadly similar trip. Only this time, the Jeff Mullins pupil was a ground-saving stalker before moving into the outside pressing spot.
Mike Smith had the gray tucked in the slipstream of free-wheeling Castleknock through the opening quarter in :22.85 on the firm turf. Packs a Wahlop was flanked by Suburban Prince, who couldn’t keep him in the pocket. The favorite created space for himself on the backstretch, and now had daylight to advance into second.
Stalking Castleknock by the half in :46.70, Packs a Wahlop increased his attention passing six furlongs in 1:10.57, and put the hard-trying pacesetter away in midstretch. The Red Baron’s Barn and Rancho Temescal runner accelerated to a 2 3/4-length score in 1:34.07 for the mile.
“On top of such a big, beautiful stride, this horse is just so athletic,” Smith said of Packs a Wahlop. “He doesn’t seem like a two-year-old, I swear he’s four! He’s naturally quick, with a very high cruising speed so he puts you right where you need to be. If they let him go, he’ll keep on running and if someone else wants to go, he settles in behind them. I mean, when I asked him to run, he just opens up that stride and it’s crazy.
“It feels great to win two stakes today,” Smith added, alluding to Hamwood Flier’s wire job, despite stumbling at the start, in the $90,840 Swingtime S. “Keeping me young. I’m going back in age.”
Castleknock proved his 44.30-1 odds all wrong by crossing the wire in second. Malibu Coast, briefly on hold needing room cornering into the lane, kept on for third. Next came Gas Me Up, For a Laugh, Dandy Man Shines, Ah Jeez, Russells Hustle, Giver Not a Taker, Suburban Prince, and De la Luna. Valiancer and Reincarnate were scratched in favor of Monday’s 10th race, a maiden at the same distance.
Unbeaten since switching to turf, Packs a Wahlop has bankrolled $230,000 from his 4-3-0-0 line. His lone loss was a debut fourth in the Gulfstream Park slop on June 3. Mullins said in the post-Zuma Beach interview that the Creative Cause colt was acting like an exceptional prospect, but just didn’t take to the off track.
“He’s a pretty nice horse,” Mullins said. “He’s probably one of the best ones I’ve had my hands on for a while. When he was in Florida, he was doing things that were not normal…Unfortunately, he hit a muddy track and didn’t really handle it that well. Once he hit the grass, I mean… (He) may even transfer to the dirt, he’s just a really nice horse.
“(Owners) Tim and Jed Cohen are great guys; they’ve been the best part of my career for the past three or four years, so I want to thank them and it’s just a blessing to have a horse like this.”
Packs a Wahlop was bred by Oak Ridge Farm in Kentucky and sold for $27,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. The pinhook success commanded $270,000 at OBS in April. Out of the multiple stakes-winning City Zip mare City by the Bay, he is a half-brother to stakes scorer Sheltered Bay.
Surfer Girl (G3)
Irish import Comanche Country made it a stateside hat trick in the Surfer Girl. Trained by Phil D’Amato for the partnership of Little Red Feather Racing, Sterling Stables, and Marsha Naify, the 4-5 favorite enjoyed an inside, midpack trip before rallying with Umberto Rispoli.
Queenzy sped an opening quarter in :22.60, slackened the pace through a half in :47.22, and reached the six-furlong split in 1:11.26. Excelia initially prompted, but retreated, leaving Sell the Dream to attend the leader. Sell the Dream tackled Queenzy down the lane, only to have the favorite pounce on her in turn.
Comanche Country, who had crept nearer awaiting a chance to angle out, shifted into the clear and went into overdrive. A half-length up at the wire, the Highland Reel filly negotiated the mile in 1:35.20.
“I had the spot I wanted,” Rispoli recapped. “I was on the fence and saved ground. On the backstretch, I just used her a little bit to make sure that I could hold my position. Around the turn, I knew the horse was able to carry me to the wire. I was just waiting for the quarter pole to put her in the clear. She did the rest, she carried four pounds over a majority of the others, so it was a big effort.”
Runner-up Sell the Dream had 1 1/2 lengths to spare over Bolt’s Broad, who closed from last for third. Fast and Shiny nipped Queenzy for fourth. Bolts Babe, Court Snort, and Excelia rounded out the order of finish. Havana Angel and Cast Member were scratched.
Now a perfect 3-for-3 in her new home, Comanche Country sports an overall record of 5-3-0-1, $231,263. The bay began her career in her homeland with John Kinsella. She was just denied in her Naas debut by Aidan O’Brien’s Deneuve. A class hike for the May 15 Fillies’ Sprint (G3) at the same venue was too much, too soon, and she trailed the field of seven led by Ballydoyle’s classy Meditate. Comanche Country promptly found the winning habit once turning up over a mile at Del Mar.
“This filly, she just continues to get better and better,” D’Amato said following the Surfer Girl. “Umberto rode her with a lot of confidence. He gave her a nice ground-saving ride, he angled out and she wanted to win today. I think this will buy us a ticket to the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland.”
Comanche Country is out of the Shamardal mare Honey Hunter; hence the name of her breeder, the Honey Hunter Syndicate. The $8,699 bargain Goffs Sportsman’s yearling descends from noted matron Doff the Derby, via the same branch as Japanese classic winner Dee Majesty and Grade/Group 1 scorers Tower of London and Sobetsu (ironically, dam of Excelia).