March 3, 2024

Contentious Shoemaker Mile offers berth to Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita

Hong Kong Harry wins the American Stakes at Santa Anita (Photo © Benoit Photo)

Monday’s $500,000 Shoemaker Mile (G1), the first Breeders’ Cup Challenge event staged at a U.S. track this year, has added significance: it’s also held at the 2023 Breeders’ Cup host site, Santa Anita. The Shoemaker serves as a “Win and You’re In” for the Mile (G1), while the $400,000 Gamely (G1) features potential players for the Filly & Mare Turf (G1).

Shoemaker Mile (G1) – Race 7 (7 p.m. ET)

Trainer Phil D’Amato has won this race four times, in just nine years since its transfer from old Hollywood Park, and he’s triple-handed on Memorial Day. Gold Phoenix captured the course-and-distance Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) March 4 on the cutback. But stablemate Hong Kong Harry was pegged as the top mile specialist before he was overturned that day, and Balnikhov didn’t do himself justice in seventh.

Indeed, the Shoemaker offers a few Kilroe combatants another chance at Gold Phoenix. Du Jour missed by only a neck in second, Cabo Spirit was a close third, and Hong Kong Harry fourth following an arguably premature bid.

Hong Kong Harry reverted to more patient tactics in the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1) on Kentucky Derby Day, and he responded to grab second to the smashing Up to the Mark. D’Amato has high hopes for Hong Kong Harry in this division, faith earlier rewarded with scores in the 2022 American (G3), Del Mar Mile (G2), and Seabiscuit (G2).

Cabo Spirit also has recent form with Up to the Mark, from Keeneland April 14. In a salty Maker’s Mark Mile (G1), Cabo Spirit finished fourth to Chez Pierre, champion Modern Games, and Up to the Mark.

Gold Phoenix subsequently stepped back up to 1 1/4 miles for the Charles Whittingham (G2), but got no nearer than fourth. Reverting to this trip could establish his itinerary going forward.

Du Jour was a one-paced fourth in this year’s edition of the American on April 2, won by Exaulted from late-running Irideo. Exaulted, now 3-for-3 since moving to turf, aims to keep the momentum going at a higher level. Balnikhov bounced back with a victory in his ensuing start, taking the San Francisco Mile (G3) where Il Bellator was third, comebacking Flavius a creditable fifth, and Lamplighter Jack sixth.

Yet the local scene could be ripe for a newcomer to offer clarity, and Hall of Famer Richard Mandella has not hesitated to enter fresh European import Salesman. Although toiling as a handicapper for most of his career in France with Andre Fabre, the Wertheimer et Frere homebred began to progress after he was gelded.

Salesman was last seen 11 months ago garnering his first black-type placing, albeit a second in a listed event at Compiegne, and he’s been firing a sequence of six-furlong bullets. Adding blinkers for this U.S. debut, Salesman might at last live up to his pedigree as a Dubawi half-brother to mile star Solow.  

Gamely (G1) – Race 5 (6 p.m. ET)

European influence is likewise prominent in the 1 1/8-mile Gamely. Trainer Brendan Walsh, who used a Keeneland allowance to launch Irish-bred Ocean Road to victory here last year, employs a similar playbook for Viareggio. The Caravaggio filly scored a new career high in her Irish finale, the Aug. 27 Snow Fairy Fillies’ S. (G3) at the Curragh, and later commanded approximately $471,000 at Tattersalls. She made her American bow in a 1 1/16-mile allowance, where she just got up in time, and the added ground can only help.

Fellow Irish expat Quattroelle has been on the Southern California circuit since her juvenile days, but recently struck top form as a five-year-old. The Jeff Mullins mare won the Megahertz (G3) and Buena Vista (G2), and if not for a bad start, she might have turned the hat trick in the Wilshire (G3). Quattroelle was runner-up that day to Brazilian champion Macadamia, who might be even more effective over an extra furlong. Macadamia is one of two for D’Amato, along with American Oaks (G1) near-misser School Dance.

Queen Goddess was on a roll over the winter, with emphatic wins over Quattroelle in the course-and-distance Robert J. Frankel (G3) and Shantisara in the Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G3). The Jenny Wiley (G1) didn’t pan out as well, as Queen Goddess chased In Italian and tired to last. With no In Italian to dictate a punishing tempo, she’s liable to turn the page back on her home turf.

Closing Remarks, a longtime graded bridesmaid, finally garnered the April 1 Royal Heroine (G2) at the expense of a troubled School Dance. Fourth in the Wilshire last out, the California-bred is cross-entered to Sunday’s Fran’s Valentine S., but the Grade 1 is more valuable to her resume as well as her bank account.

Bellamore, third in her latest turf try in the Oct. 8 Rodeo Drive (G1), has since been competing respectably on the main track. Runner-up in the Falls City (G3) to Played Hard, who validated that by adding the La Troienne (G1), Bellamore was most recently best of the rest behind Adare Manor in the April 29 Santa Maria (G2).