Three notable Triple Crown nominees scored comeback wins at far-flung locations on Friday. First the Aidan O’Brien-trained U S S Michigan broke his maiden at Dundalk, then Mucho prevailed in the 2ND race at Gulfstream Park, and finally Roadster got back in business in the 8TH at Santa Anita.
U S S Michigan contested the race before Dundalk had to cancel the rest of the card, including the Patton S. on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby (G1), reportedly due to a medical emergency on track.
The 2-5 favorite in a six-furlong sprint, U S S Michigan had the natural speed to attend the pace from post 14. But the War Front colt looked better the farther he went, eventually pulling 2 1/2 lengths clear. The leggy gray still appeared a little green, understandable since he hadn’t been seen since a near-miss on debut at the Curragh June 30. U S S Michigan clocked 1:11.77 on the Polytrack, faster than the opening claimer for older horses that went in 1:12.31.
First runner of the year, first winner for Aidan O’Brien as War Front colt U S S Michigan gets off the mark at @DundalkStadium
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) March 1, 2019
It was telling that O’Brien made a once-raced maiden an early Triple Crown nominee. U S S Michigan is apparently on course for the final European points race, the April 11 Cardinal Conditions race at Chelmsford, judging by the postrace comments.
“He’s a big horse and we gave him time,” O’Brien told irishracing.com. “He could go for a trial on the all-weather at Chelmsford. We’ll see how he is after this.”
Jockey Ryan Moore observed that U S S Michigan, a May 22 foal, is just barely getting started.
“He’s a big, strong horse who is going to get better through the year,” Moore told irishracing.com. “He did that nicely from an outside stall as I had to use him up. When I asked him to go he went about his job very well.”
Campaigned by the Coolmore principals and breeder Joseph Allen, U S S Michigan is a full brother to Group 3 winner and French classic-placed War Dispatch. He is also a three-quarter brother to two other high-profile War Fronts – O’Brien’s 2013 UAE Derby (G2) winner, Lines of Battle, later a top performer in Hong Kong under the name of Helene Super Star, and 2017 Flower Bowl (G1) heroine War Flag. Lines of Battle and War Flag are half-siblings to U S S Michigan’s dam, the unraced Photograph by Unbridled’s Song.
Next to justify expectations off the layoff was Mucho, who exuded class in a six-furlong allowance at Gulfstream Park.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott for Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, the homebred had been sidelined since his runner-up effort in the Hopeful (G1). He encountered a minor setback in the preparation for his comeback too – a foot bruise that caused him to miss a work – but the 1-2 favorite got the job done.
Mucho, not quick into stride from the rail, drafted behind pacesetter Lutsky and the prompting Releasethethunder while bottled up through an opening quarter in :22.53. Yet the well-bred son of Blame was traveling well and soon secured breathing room in a clear third. Jockey Jose Ortiz steered him out to join the leaders by the half in :45.27, and he edged away in the stretch.
The missed work might have told as Mucho needed :13.02 to finish the last furlong, crossing the wire in 1:10.35. Ortiz was careful not to give him a hard race, however, and this was the kind of tightener that should move him forward.
“I thought maybe he’d be good enough to win,” Mott told track publicity. “It looked like maybe he got a little tired there at the end; he’s been off six months.
“Jose said they made a pretty long run from the three-eighths pole home. They were moving right along. It was a pretty good race, I’d say.”
The urgent question is what’s next for Mucho, one of the dazzling maiden winners at Saratoga last summer, and with a pedigree that suggests he’ll route.
“I think we need to sit down with the powers that be and just figure out if we want to stretch out next time or what we want to do, distance-wise,” Mott said. “I think that’s the main thing we’ve got to talk about.
“I’m sure we will (stretch him out) at some point, whether it’s next time or not. We’ve got to start somewhere.”
Mucho’s pedigree sports the Rasmussen Factor of inbreeding to a superior female. Sire Blame and dam Extent are both grandchildren of the influential Bound, herself a daughter of blue hen Special (responsible for the tribe of Nureyev, Sadler’s Wells, Number et al).
Extent has also produced Size, by First Samurai, who captured the 2014 Iowa Oaks (G3).
Later at Santa Anita, the 4-5 Roadster readily outkicked 3-5 favorite Nolo Contesto in an allowance over a mile.
Long highly regarded by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who tabbed Roadster when TMZ famously asked him which youngster was his next Justify, the Speedway Stable runner had not been seen since last summer. He lived up to billing with a romp in his Del Mar unveiling, but in the Del Mar Futurity (G1), he was upstaged by stablemate and eventual champion Game Winner. After his lackluster third, Roadster was diagnosed with a breathing issue and underwent corrective surgery.
The Quality Road colt returned to the worktab late last year, only to miss training time with quarter-cracks, as reported by Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman. Roadster posted no works between December 19 and January 30, but got ready in time for this strong two-turn debut.
As Diamond Blitz, the 70-1 longest shot on the board, carved out moderate fractions of :23.75, :47.85, and 1:13.16, Roadster was tracking comfortably on the outside. His Hall of Fame rider, Mike Smith, had him covering up Nolo Contesto on the rail before advancing. By the time Nolo Contesto saw daylight, Roadster had already pounced. Still, he took an age to hit his stride in any event, not having the winner’s kick.
Roadster was much the best by 2 1/2 lengths in a final time of 1:37.53.
“He’s back on the Derby trail,” Baffert told Santa Anita publicity. “That was quite a performance off a layoff. We just want to see how he comes out of this…When he worked in 10 and three (six furlongs in 1:10.60) out of the gate the other day (on February 17), that’s sick, for a horse to do that on this track.”
“I’m just so happy with the way he ran,” Smith said. “His mechanics, his (breathing), everything was smooth. Last time, he was struggling, so they did a little minor surgery (to address his breathing). Today, he was loving it.
“The track is great. It’s got a lot of cushion. They’re just floating over it. This colt loved it.”
Bred by Stone Farm, Roadster was sold for $525,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. The gray is out of the stakes-winning Silver Ghost mare Ghost Dancing, making him a half-brother to Grade 1 victor Ascend.