Nine months in advance of the Breeders’ Cup, the Santa Anita turf was already proving hospitable to visiting European jockeys on Saturday. Shane Foley lifted Irish import Platinum Warrior to a 16-1 upset of the $202,808 San Marcos (G2), while Andrea Atzeni guided another Irish-bred, the 11-1 True Valour, to victory in the $100,351 Thunder Road (G3) over a luckless River Boyne. Horses and riders were all scoring their first U.S. wins.
Zhang Yuesheng’s Platinum Warrior joined John Sadler after a useful fourth in the Secretariat (G1) for original trainer Michael Halford. In his new home, however, the Galileo colt had been plying his trade over an inadequate nine furlongs. After a fifth in the Twilight Derby (G2), 10th in the Hollywood Derby (G1), and fifth in the San Gabriel (G2), Platinum Warrior appreciated stretching back out to 1 1/4 miles in the San Marcos – the same trip as his previous stakes coup in the Curragh’s Gallinule (G3).
Jet-setting Foley, who’s ridden at Meydan and Dundalk most recently, renewed his partnership with Platinum Warrior and rode a heady race. Initially a couple of lengths off front-running Roman Rosso through fractions of :23.37 and :48.22 on the good course, Foley let Platinum Warrior range up alongside as they reached six furlongs in 1:13.24 and the mile in 1:37.67.
Then Foley committed him turning into the stretch, opening up by daylight and stealing a march on the closers. Platinum Warrior was looking for the wire late, but the gambit worked as he still had three-quarters of a length to spare in a final time of 2:02.37. He rewarded his loyalists with a $34.40 win mutuel.
Epical got up for second, a neck over Beach View, and Ya Gotta Wanna checked in fourth. Chicago Style, the 3-1 favorite, closed for fifth but again showed why he’s most effective at 1 1/2 miles. Dabster, a one-paced sixth in his turf debut, might have done better with a more forward trip. Next came Unapologetic; Sejo, Sadler’s new recruit from France; Flamboyant; India Mantuana; Roman Rosso; Prince of Arabia; and Lucky Soul.
Sadler indicated that Dubai may well be on the itinerary for Platinum Warrior, who is nominated to the Sheema Classic (G1) and Dubai Turf (G1) on the March 30 World Cup card.
“The owner (Yuesheng) is talking about going to Dubai for the festival so he might go over there and then come back.
“It will be kind of up to the owner. Michael Donohoe is kind of his representative in Europe, and they have horses all over the world, but hopefully we will be able to run him in some longer races as we go along. He can run a mile and a half no problem.
“I wasn’t too worried about Epical late. He’s by Galileo and these horses have a ton of stamina. So if you get them to the stretch and you’re in front, you’ll probably keep going.”
Foley likewise trusted his mount to get him home.
“Without a doubt…It was well worth the travel from Ireland for this win,” Foley said.
“I let him go, let him dictate it. I knew his speed was his main attribute. Being on the front end turning into the straight was a bit daunting but I just had to play him at his strengths and I knew if we turned it into a sprint, he’d sprint away. I knew we needed to make a stand to make it count.
“He would be willing to go extra furlongs. Last time, I got stuck there down inside (in the San Gabriel) then it was just quick and away and he was not the least bit intimidated. But it all worked out well today, thank God, he gusted over.
“If I could do as well as Lester Piggott, I’ll be doing OK.”
Bred by Triermore Stud in the Emerald Isle, Platinum Warrior was scooped up by Yuesheng’s Yulong Investments for €200,000 ($224,940) as a Goffs Orby yearling. The gray gets his color from his dam, the Group 2-winning Clodovil mare Laugh Out Loud.
Platinum Warrior has earned $208,343 from a 12-3-1-0 record. Aside from his Gallinule score, he was a respectable fourth to Hazapour in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial (G3) and ninth in the Irish Derby (G1) during his time with Halford.
Compatriot True Valour, a Group performer under the tutelage of Johnny Murtagh, remained stateside after his seventh in last summer’s Eddie Read (G2). Transferred to Simon Callaghan, the Qatar Racing colorbearer tired to 10th in the Del Mar Mile (G2) and went on holiday. True Valour resurfaced in a January 13 allowance, where he struck the front too soon and finished third.
Atzeni, enjoying a stint at Santa Anita before returning to England, learned that he had to hang onto the son of Kodiac a bit longer. Their teamwork was flawless in the Thunder Road.
Settled in fifth of six as Blackjackcat carved out splits of :23.94 and :48.52, True Valour remained on hold when Le Ken took over on the far turn. But when Ohio advanced, Atzeni asked True Valour to follow him. In so doing, he cleverly kept 3-5 favorite River Boyne bottled up at the six-furlong mark in 1:12.89.
The Brazilian import Ohio collared Argentinean Le Ken in the stretch in a South American battle royal. River Boyne tried to split them, but there was no room, and he had to hit the brakes.
“I was going for a hole and it closed right away,” Flavien Prat said of his ride on River Boyne. “I probably should’ve stayed on the fence.”
True Valour, free and clear on the outside, quickened to overtake Ohio by a half-length while clocking the mile in 1:36.35. Le Ken yielded grudgingly in third, another neck back. The troubled River Boyne suffered his first Santa Anita loss in fourth. Desert Stone reported home fifth after being asleep at the break, and Blackjackcat faded to last.
Callaghan was earning a quick graded double after Bellafina in the Las Virgenes (G2). The trainer had teamed up with Prat there, but needed to find a way to beat him on River Boyne here.
“We knew there wasn’t probably not going to be that much speed on,” Callaghan said, “but we had to stick to the plan take our time get him to relax, and I just said to Andrea I prefer you to come in late than too early and we held Flavien in in a crucial time, and he rode an absolutely perfect race.”
“True Valour ran well in his last race,” Atzeni noted, “maybe a bit too close to the pace is all. Today, I wanted to give him a chance, keep him to the outside. He jumped OK but I didn’t want to be too close to the pace. Obviously I was keeping an eye on Flavien, on River Boyne, obviously the horse to beat. He picked up when I picked my stick up and was always good enough to win. It went similar to the races I ride in the U.K.
“The win was always going to happen, these things just take time,” added Atzeni, who had turned the Canadian International (G1) and E.P. Taylor (G1) double at Woodbine last fall but had yet to break through in the U.S.
“I’ve had a great time so far, I’ve been placed a lot of times, I just couldn’t manage to get a win in. It was great to get a win today especially for Simon, he’s been very supportive to me and Sheikh Fahad who is not here today, he’s a good friend of mine and of course Matt Nakatani, my agent. He’s been good to me and it’s so great to get a winner. The horse deserves this because he was a pretty good horse in Europe and he was entitled to a win.
“I’m having a great time here in America. I was going to go back three weeks ago, but I changed my flight to the end of February. This is a good place to be, keeping myself fit with the rides and the people have all been really great to me. Hopefully, I come back here.”
True Valour’s resume reads 18-4-2-6, $235,219. Progressive at three, True Valour placed in the Surrey and The Tetrarch en route to capturing the Celebration S., and he ran Suedois to a half-length in the 2017 Boomerang (G2). True Valour opened 2018 with thirds in the Amethyst (G3) and Diomed (G3) and scored a new high in his Irish finale, the Ballycorus (G3).
Bred by P. O’Rourke, the 19,000-guinea ($31,174) Tattersalls December weanling was a profitable pinhook for Tally Ho Stud, selling to his current connections for €100,000 ($112,200) as a Goresbridge May juvenile. True Valour is out of the winning Acclamation mare Sutton Veny, from the further family of Mystiko, the 2000 Guineas (G1) hero of 1991.