At a rainy Aqueduct on Saturday, George Krikorian’s War Like Goddess emulated sire English Channel by scoring a repeat victory in the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1). Earlier, Klaravich Stables’ McKulick rebounded in the $186,000 Waya (G3), topping a Chad Brown exacta in the only other stakes remaining on the turf.
The two ensuing stakes slated for the grass, the Belmont Turf Sprint (G3) and Jockey Club Derby (G3), were transferred to the main track in an announcement made a little while after the Hirsch.
Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1)
Third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) to Rebel’s Romance and Stone Age, War Like Goddess turned the tables emphatically under new pilot Junior Alvarado. The Bill Mott mare had an at-times rocky relationship with former rider Joel Rosario, and after a frustrating loss to McKulick in the Aug. 3 Glens Falls (G2) at Saratoga, a change was in order.
Alvarado clicked with War Like Goddess soon enough, as he got her to switch off kindly in the early going. Otherwise, the Hirsch wasn’t exactly unfolding to script, with a tearaway longshot trying to give the field the slip, and build up an insurmountable advantage on the yielding course.
The 90-1 So High made a bold fist of it. More than doubling his margin between the opening quarter in :24.76 and the half in :49.56, the Naipaul Chatterpaul trainee was distancing the rest through six furlongs in 1:15.62. So High ran up the score to 19 lengths by the time he reached the mile in 1:40.94. The gap began to close turning for home, but the upset-minded leader was still 4 1/2 lengths in front in midstretch.
Rebel’s Romance, the 0.55-1 favorite, was prominent in the main body of the field, and the Godolphin globetrotter was the first to commit in pursuit. But he was spinning his wheels.
Instead, it was War Like Goddess who sluiced through the ground. Sticking to the inside before switching out, she covered Rebel’s Romance’s move and rapidly gained on the weakening So High. The defending champion rolled past and drew off by 4 1/2 lengths, completing 1 1/2 miles in 2:32.86. According to Equibase, that’s a record time for the distance on the outer turf course.
War Like Goddess became only the third back-to-back winner in Turf Classic history. The first was also a distaffer, April Run (1981-82), and the next was the aforementioned English Channel (2006-07). The other two-time victors won in non-consecutive years, Valiant Prince (1997 and 1999) and Mott’s Channel Maker (2018 and 2020).
Soldier Rising rallied from last to snatch second from So High, whose effort was rewarded with an improbable third. Rebel’s Romance checked in third, followed by Stone Age, Grand Sonata, Pioneering Spirit, and the tailed-off Astronaut.
Godolphin jockey William Buick cited the conditions for Rebel’s Romance’s anticlimactic finish.
“The ground was too soft. He had a beautiful run through,” Buick recapped. “The leader (So High) stole the march, and the other two (War Like Goddess and Soldier Rising) picked him off, and I couldn’t. I was struggling out there.”
Alvarado, in contrast, was content at every stage aboard War Like Goddess.
“I wasn’t worried about the horse in front,” Alvarado said. “I had to try and make sure my filly relaxed. On occasion, she can get very keen, and I think that’s the time when she gets beat because she is fighting herself. So, I just tried to relax and she did relax for me the whole way around.
“I was sitting chill where I wanted to be, and by the time I started to pick it up, I had a ton of horse. Even when I turned for home and saw that horse was 10 to 12 lengths in front of me, I knew I was going to catch him when I asked my filly and she gives me that turn of foot that she has.
“She was traveling beautifully. I was very happy with what I had under me.”
Mott was also pleased with the mare’s placement relative to the principals.
“She wasn’t that far back from the second, third, and fourth horse,” the Hall of Fame horseman said.
“She wasn’t really that far back at all. Ordinarily, 90% of the time when a horse opens up that much, they usually come back. Obviously, you’ll have times when they don’t, but she was close enough to the other horses.”
War Like Goddess kicked off a big-race double for Krikorian, Mott, and Alvarado, who came right back to dominate the Frizette (G1) with exciting juvenile filly Just F Y I. The six-year-old mare could join her younger stablemate at Santa Anita, with another tilt at the Turf in view.
“If she runs, she’ll run against the boys,” Mott said. “I won’t run her a mile and a quarter (in the Filly & Mare Turf [G1]). She’s a mile and a half filly.”
War Like Goddess has compiled a stellar record of 17-11-2-2 while bankrolling $2,495,184. Aside from her Turf Classic trophies, she boasts a three-peat in the Bewitch (G3) at Keeneland, two editions of the Glens Falls, and victories in the 2021 Flower Bowl (G1) and Orchid (G3). War Like Goddess has endured some tough beats, including her third in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf and close seconds in both the 2022 Flower Bowl and her latest title defense in the Glens Falls.
Bred by Kentucky’s historic Calumet Farm, War Like Goddess was a $30,000 bargain buy as a two-year-old in training at OBS June. The bay is out of Misty North, by 2004 Epsom Derby (G1) hero North Light.
While War Like Goddess could advance to the Turf, McKulick is eyeing the Filly & Mare Turf after prevailing as the 2-5 favorite in the Waya.
Thwarted by Parnac’s risible pace in the Flower Bowl (G2) in her latest at Saratoga, McKulick had stablemate Idea Generation in the line-up this time to prevent Parnac from another grand larceny. The new variable here was yielding going, but conditions brought McKulick’s stamina into play, and the daughter of Frankel slogged through it.
In the scratch-reduced field of four, Idea Generation opened up by daylight through fractions of :25.14, :51.40, and 1:17.23. Parnac was relegated to a tracking role, with McKulick keeping close tabs in third. Although Parnac drew nearer to the leader passing the mile in 1:43, the French-bred never looked like duplicating her Saratoga upset.
Idea Generation, however, momentarily appeared dangerous as she continued to stay on strongly in the lead. Yet McKulick hit her best stride inside the final furlong and pulled way to a two-length decision. Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., the British-bred negotiated 1 3/8 miles in 2:20.10.
Fellow Klaravich colorbearer Idea Generation was clearly second-best by 2 1/4 lengths from Sister Otoole, and Parnac trailed. Personal Best and Romagna Mia were scratched, along with the main-track-only entrants Movie Moxy and Peak Popularity.
McKulick’s resume reads 13-5-5-2, $1,615,720. Her other marquee wins have come in last term’s Belmont Oaks (G1) and Jockey Club Oaks (G3) (at the Waya course and distance) as well as the Glens Falls over War Like Goddess. Like that top-class mare, McKulick needs the right set-up to win, as attested by her series of placings throughout her career – the 2021 Miss Grillo (G2); 2022 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1), Edgewood (G2), Regret (G3), and Saratoga Oaks (G3); and this summer’s New York (G1) and Flower Bowl.
“She really liked the soft ground,” Ortiz observed following the Waya. “I think she appreciated it and the pace. Last time, there was no pace in the race and it cost her that race, I think. Today, the other filly of the same connections (Idea Generation) put an honest pace and a better pace than last time and she really liked it. She always gives me a good kick and she stays on and keeps coming.”
“She did great,” Brown said. “She was very unlucky in the Flower Bowl; she was clearly the best in that race. She got race ridden a little bit there by the horse that finished last in the race (Parnac). I wanted to make sure we had a pace horse in there to keep it an honest race, but could also do some good in the race. Everything was accomplished today.”
Brown noted that Idea Generation’s rider, Florent Geroux, “really followed instructions well,” while adding that the Dubawi sophomore had more going for her than a strictly pacemaker’s job.
Bred by Essafinaat UK Ltd. and purchased for approximately $245,549 as a Tattersalls October yearling, McKulick is a half-sister to 2020 German 2000 Guineas (G2) victor Fearless King and Irish Group 2 queen Just Beautiful. They are all out of the Group 3-placed Makfi mare Astrelle, herself a half to Italian Group 2 hero Porsenna.