Prolific Louisiana jockey Gerard Melancon made a rare foray to Churchill Downs to ride Mocito Rojo in Saturday night’s $250,000 Lukas Classic (G3), and the Delta Downs shipper proved worth the trip as he subdued Silver Dust to rack up his fifth straight stakes win.
Sent off at 8-1 in a field including such notables as 2-1 favorite Quip and Tenfold, Mocito Rojo continued his heartwarming rags-to-riches tale. Elderly owner Wayne T. Davis and trainer Shane Wilson claimed him for just $10,000 out of his debut score at Delta in December 2016, and the chestnut has reached a level few might have imagined. The admirably consistent campaigner has compiled a mark of 25-17-3-1, and earned $797,000, while lifting his connections to their only graded successes so far as an owner and trainer.
“I think I’m still dreaming,” Davis, 90, said. “I’ve been waiting all my life to have a horse like this. He won’t be ignored anymore. I think he has more heart than Secretariat – just doesn’t weigh nearly as much. We’ll take things one step at a time but I am just so thrilled to be here.”
Mocito Rojo broke well from the far outside post 10 and had the gears to establish good early position. The only rival to leave the gate faster was Quip, but the favorite eased back instead of getting in a pace battle with 3-1 second choice Pioneer Spirit. The 7-1 Silver Dust ranged up to prompt Pioneer Spirit after an opening quarter in :24.04 on the fast track, and Mocito Rojo crept into a stalking third through fractions of :48.73 and 1:12.51.
Turning for home, Silver Dust made his bid and tried to forge clear. But Mocito Rojo covered his move and threw down a relentless challenge. Gradually getting the upper hand, Mocito Rojo had a neck to spare with “G Money” simply waving the whip at the wire.
The top pair drew four lengths ahead of Sir Anthony, a 20-1 shot who closed to snatch third from Blueridge Traveler. Next came Big Dollar Bill; Quip, who overraced on the backstretch instead of relaxing behind the leader; Mexican star Kukulkan; Tenfold; Pioneer Spirit; and Hawaakom.
Mocito Rojo finished 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.91 and paid $19.60 to his loyalists. The five-year-old was bred by Paul Van Doren and Andrena Van Doren in Kentucky from fellow homebreds. His sire is the obscure Mutakddim stallion Mutadda, winner of the 2009 F.W. Gaudin Memorial at Fair Grounds, and his dam is Blushing Royale by Orientate. Interestingly, both halves of his pedigree have Chilean Group 1-winning mares in the forefront. Mutadda is out of Carita Tostada, and Blushing Royale descends from La Madame.
Successful in last year’s Evangeline Mile and Delta Mile, Mocito Rojo began his current streak in a non-black-type event, the Owner Appreciation Cup at Delta March 9. Then came his first graded coup in the Steve Sexton Mile (G3) at Lone Star Park, a repeat in the Evangeline Mile, the August 23 Governor’s Cup at Remington, and now his biggest win so far beneath the Twin Spires. Wilson isn’t getting too far ahead of himself with ambitious objectives, mentioning Fair Grounds and Oaklawn as the likeliest venues for Mocito Rojo to continue his ascent.
The $150,000 Ack Ack H. (G3) may have a greater bearing on the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) picture. Jim Bakke and Gerald Isbister’s Mr Freeze recaptured his best form in a performance that put him in consideration for a Santa Anita venture.
The Dale Romans trainee had been a rapidly progressive three-year-old last season, but lost his way after an eight-length romp in the West Virginia Derby (G3). Sidelined for seven months, Mr Freeze warmed up with a gutsy second to Mr Darcy in an Ellis Park allowance August 11, and was ready to roll here.
As expected, 3-1 favorite Mr. Jagermeister jumped right to the lead. Mr Darcy chased through fast splits of :22.95 and :45.35, and Mr Freeze traveled well in a stalking third for Robby Albarado. When Mr Darcy ramped up the pressure on the far turn, Mr Freeze cruised alongside through six furlongs in 1:09.44, and kicked clear of the early leaders in upper stretch.
Thirstforlife rallied to reduce the deficit to 1 1/2 lengths, but Mr Freeze wasn’t threatened in a convincing tally in 1:34.11 for the one-turn mile. Mr Darcy held third from C Z Rocket while Mr. Jagermeister dropped back to fifth. Timeline, Air Strike, and Unmatchable rounded out the order of finish. Olympic Village scratched in favor of the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), where he trailed.
The 6-1 Mr Freeze rewarded his backers with a $14.80 win payout, and upped his record to 8-4-2-0, $542,710. The To Honor and Serve colt was a debut maiden winner at Keeneland in spring 2018 and followed up with an entry-level allowance score at Churchill. Missing by a half-length in the Iowa Derby next, Mr Freeze took a leap forward in his first graded attempt in the West Virginia Derby. He was a too-bad-to-be-true eighth in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1), and after sustaining another double-digit loss in the Tropical Turf (G3), he was shelved. The lightly raced four-year-old likely has scope for further development.
Bred by Siena Farms in Kentucky and sold for $75,000 at Keeneland September, Mr Freeze is a half-brother to Grade 3 winners Heavenly Ransom and Dilemma; multiple Grade 2-placed stakes victor Capitano; and Zayanna, dam of current Black-Eyed Susan (G2) heroine Point of Honor, runner-up in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) and Alabama (G1). Mr Freeze’s dam, the unraced Tabasco Cat mare Heavenly Cat, descends from multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Sabin.
Churchill also staged a turf stakes Saturday night, the $125,000 Jefferson Cup for sophomores, won in wire-to-wire fashion by Spectacular Gem. Trained by James Baker for Candie Baker, the 9-1 shot was coming off a tough disqualification for interference in the Caesars S. at Indiana Grand. The first past the post was demoted to fourth, but no such hiccups prevented him from keeping this victory, accomplished with the blinkers taken off.
Under a well-judged ride by James Graham, Spectacular Gem carved out fractions of :23.26, :47.11, and 1:11.37 and clocked nine furlongs on the firm course in 1:48.14. Tracksmith nipped Faraway Kitten on the line for second, 1 3/4 lengths adrift of the winner. Clint Maroon was in striking range throughout but reported home a one-paced fourth, and 9-5 favorite Scars Are Cool didn’t factor in sixth of seven.
Spectacular Gem is the top stakes performer so far for sire Can the Man, sporting a resume of 11-3-1-3, $161,920. The bay previously garnered a pair of stakes placings at Fair Grounds in the Lloyd Captain Maestri Memorial and the Black Gold. Bred by Ledgelands and Andrew Ritter in Kentucky, the $20,000 Keeneland September yearling is out of the unraced Malabar Gold mare Blackhawk Honey.