Making his first start since owner Kaleem Shah transferred him to Doug O’Neill, Iliad romped in his stakes debut in Sunday’s $200,000 San Vicente (G2) at Santa Anita. The Triple Crown nominee is now set to stretch out to two turns and hop on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail.
The San Vicente was expected to showcase the talents of another Triple Crown nominee with a war-themed name, Battle of Midway. Dispatched as the 4-5 favorite off a sparkling debut, the Jerry Hollendorfer pupil had no answer to Iliad’s high speed and plugged on for a distant third. Battle of Midway shaped as a router, and the promising son of Smart Strike can build on this.
Iliad, who was last seen zipping through a six-furlong maiden at Los Alamitos for Bob Baffert, also got a rider change for the San Vicente, but not quite as forecast. Rafael Bejarano was to take over the mount until he was banged up in a spill in Saturday’s 9TH race. Agent Tora Yamaguchi reported that “X-rays and a chest scan were negative,” but Bejarano sat out Sunday as a precaution.
Thus meet-leading rider Flavien Prat found himself scoring a pick-up mount on the San Vicente winner. The 2-1 second choice attended the pace scrum as stablemate Blabimir reeled off fractions of :21.89 and :44.08 on the fast track. Baffert’s Aquamarine was likewise in the thick of it early before dropping back, while the slow-starting Law Abidin Citizen eventually got through on the inside to force the issue.
Iliad, perched three wide, always appeared to have the measure of the inside speed. Smoothly asserting on the turn into the stretch, the Ghostzapper ridgling drew off. He’d left them standing at the six-furlong mark in 1:08.52, so even a final furlong in :13.10 wasn’t enough to help his pursuers make a dent. Indeed, Iliad actually extended his advantage to 3 1/2 lengths when completing seven furlongs in 1:21.62.
Law Abidin Citizen was 4 1/2 lengths clear of Battle of Midway, who had three-quarters of a length to spare over Aquamarine. Blabimir was eased in last, reminiscent of his inability to finish the Sham (G3) last time.
The San Vicente historically had greater relevance for classic prospects than it does now. But O’Neill revived it as a stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby last year, with champion Nyquist kicking off his three-year-old campaign in this spot before going on to victory in the Florida Derby (G1) and ultimately at Churchill Downs.
Needless to say, Iliad doesn’t have the same profile. He didn’t make it to the races until December, and won’t try a route of ground until the March 11 San Felipe (G2), which Shah hopes will propel him to the April 8 Santa Anta Derby (G1). His scorecard stands at 3-2-0-0, $147,345.
Bred by Sungyeoun Lim in Kentucky, Iliad was a $50,000 Keeneland November weanling who resold for $80,000 at the same venue as a September yearling, and finally commanded $285,000 as an OBS March two-year-old. The bay was produced by the winning You and I mare Little Swoon, making Iliad a half-brother to multiple Canadian Grade 3 winner Melmich. The long-winded Melmich, by Wilko, won the 2015 Valedictory (G3) in a track-record 2:55.81 for 1 3/4 miles on Woodbine’s old Polytrack.
Iliad was capping a big weekend on the three-year-old scene for Ghostzapper. His unbeaten son McCraken set a track record in the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, furthering his status as a top Derby contender.
Quotes from Santa Anita
Trainer Doug O’Neill on Iliad: “He’s a really nice horse. He has a lot of class. He ran huge today. We’ve just tried to not screw him up. Flavien rode a great race today and got it done.
“Going seven eighths can be a grind if you break real sharp and try to run all the way (on the lead). Flavien knew what to do and did a great job.”
Owner Kaleem Shah: “His last breeze was awesome. I talked with Doug and he had a lot of confidence that he’d run well today and he ran to his works.
“We can all hope and pray for horses like this. I’m glad Iliad came along. I hope he continues to move forward. It’s one race at a time in this business, but it looks very promising for now.
“I was looking for a great name just like Bayern, which represented a great soccer team. This one, Iliad, represents a great western classic in literature.
“I think we stay here and try to run in the San Felipe and then hopefully, the Santa Anita Derby.”
Trainer Mark Glatt on runner-up Law Abidin Citizen: “I’m really pleased with his race, especially because he just ran two weeks ago (when breaking his maiden January 29). I probably wouldn’t have looked at this race if it wasn’t a short field. This was just an honest effort today. He (jockey Jamie Theriot) had to move a little early down the backside because we were inside. He’s run three really good races since we gelded him (November 26) and I think he’ll stretch out to a mile, no problem.”