Late-blooming sophomore Harvest Moon toppled 2-5 favorite Fighting Mad in Sunday’s $196,000 Zenyatta Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita, securing a free ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).
Fighting Mad was widely expected to use her early speed to lethal effect, as in her past two victories in the May 31 Santa Maria (G2) and Aug. 2 Clement L. Hirsch (G1). But Harvest Moon, who had won all three dirt starts coming into the Zenyatta, was able to neutralize the favorite’s presumed advantage.
Benefiting from an eight-pound weight concession, and a heady ride by Flavien Prat, the Simon Callaghan trainee closely tracked Fighting Mad through fractions of :23.37 and :46.51. Harvest Moon was traveling conspicuously better as she ranged alongside at the 6-furlong split in 1:10.21.
Fighting Mad’s rider, Luis Saez, had to get busy turning for home. The 126-pound highweight tried to respond, but she could not contain her younger rival. Harvest Moon forged ahead, and Fighting Mad spent herself in an attempt to hang tough before finally succumbing.
Meanwhile, Hard Not to Love, who had been in range until dropping further back, got back in the game down the stretch. Her late rally fell three-quarters of a length shy of Harvest Moon, with Fighting Mad the same margin astern in third. There was a 7 1/4 length-gap to trailing longshot Proud Emma, and the only other entrant, Hang a Star, scratched.
Harvest Moon, the 3.90-1 third choice, covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.03 to extend her winning streak to four.
“We thought Fighting Mad would go to the lead,” Prat recapped, “and we wanted to keep pressure on her. My filly had never been a mile and a sixteenth, but Fighting Mad was carrying 126 pounds. You never know with a 3-year-old against older, but we got eight pounds, so that was good. It turned out this was a good distance for my filly and she really ran well.”
An Alice Bamford homebred co-owned by Michael Tabor, Harvest Moon only just began her career in June. The daughter of Uncle Mo and Qaraaba, herself a Grade 3 winner on the Santa Anita turf for the same owner/trainer team, was a debut third on the grass here. Harvest Moon has raced only on dirt since, climbing the ranks swiftly from a Los Alamitos maiden and Del Mar entry-level allowance to the Aug. 22 Torrey Pines (G3). The Zenyatta doubled her earnings to $240,720 from a 5-4-0-1 line.
Callaghan noted that her co-owners’ patience is paying off.
“We have been really patient with her early on, and that’s a credit to Alice and Michael Tabor. I always said that this filly has a lot of talent and they were so patient throughout the whole process. She took her time to come to hand, but she’s come a long way in a short period of time.”
Harvest Moon was rewarding connections for making the call to go versus elders in the Zenyatta. They had given serious consideration to keeping her against fellow 3-year-olds in the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) on Preakness Day.
“Certainly looks like a good decision now,” Callaghan said. “Myself and Alice along with everyone else chatted, and we felt at this stage keeping her here, receiving the weight from Fighting Mad was the right thing. It all worked out good. I’m super happy.”
Bamford spoke of her emotions.
“I’m absolutely thrilled today, completely over the moon for Harvest Moon! She’s a homebred and she’s just so deep in my heart and my family’s heart. It was so good to see her so well ridden today, showing off her beautiful stride. She came and did it against a very, very good competitor in Fighting Mad. We’re thrilled and we won, and we are in!
“Well done to our fantastic trainer Simon Callaghan.
“We lost her mother this year, Qaraaba who was a stunning, stunning filly and each time I tell her, ‘Harvest Moon, go and do it for your Mama.’ And she has.”
Qaraaba, a Shamardal mare descended from the great Salsabil, was a useful handicapper in England. Acquired by Bamford and Tabor, she ventured to California and won both starts for Callaghan, signing off after her career climax in the Robert J. Frankel (G3) on Dec. 30, 2012. Qaraaba is now the dam of two graded winners, her first being Californiagoldrush, the 2018 Sands Point (G2) heroine and Del Mar Oaks (G1) third.
Later on the card, 7-5 favorite C Z Rocket outlasted a stubborn Flagstaff in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes (G2) to remain perfect in five starts since joining the Peter Miller barn.
The shrewd $40,000 claim from Oaklawn Park was winning his second straight Breeders’ Cup Challenge event, but in two different divisions. C Z Rocket made his complimentary reservation for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) in the Aug. 29 Pat O’Brien (G2), but Miller believed he’d prefer to stick to one turn. Sunday’s race gave him the opportunity to tackle a couple of proper rivals at 6 furlongs, and he seized it to earn a free pass to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1).
With Saez aboard, C Z Rocket flanked pacesetter Flagstaff as he rattled off splits of :22.33 and :45.27. Flagstaff clung to his half-length advantage as long as he could, until C Z Rocket’s superior finishing power told. The City Zip gelding forced his head in front in 1:09.14.
“I didn’t expect to be that close,” Saez said, “but he broke so sharp and he took me there. I decided to let him settle and keep him happy. When I pulled the trigger turning for home, he took off. I love this horse. Now he’s ready for the real deal.”
Collusion Illusion, the 1.90-1 second choice after beating elders in the “Win and You’re In” Bing Crosby (G1), ran another fine race in third. The sophomore arguably would have preferred to close from farther back off a faster tempo, instead of having to chase a length back as he did here. Just 1 1/4 lengths behind Flagstaff, Collusion Illusion was well clear of Desert Law and Giant Expectations.
C Z Rocket picked up a couple of new co-owners since the Pat O’Brien, with Gary Barber and Madaket Stables forming a partnership with Tom Kagele who’d orchestrated the claim back in April. The 6-year-old gelding promptly won twice at Churchill Downs, and broke the track record during Keeneland’s ad hoc July meet.
The Pat O’Brien marked his first graded victory, but he’d hinted of ability for his initial trainer Al Stall in the summer of 2018 when taking the Kelly’s Landing and finishing fourth in the Forego (G1). C Z Rocket now sports a mark of 22-9-1-2, $551,461.
His sales history, as the $800,000 topper at OBS June in 2016, also reflects early expectations. Bred by Farm III Enterprises in Florida, C Z Rocket is out of the Grade 3-placed Successful Appeal mare Successful Sarah. Ironically, this is the same family as his beaten foe Giant Expectations.
Miller revealed further context behind the Santa Anita Sprint Championship.
“There were a lot of things involved in this. We recently sold a part of him to Gary Barber and Sol Kumin (of Madaket Stables) and I really wanted to win for those two gentlemen. Flavien (Prat) took off him (to ride Collusion Illusion) and I wanted to prove that he made the wrong move.
“I just wanted to win this race. It’s a big race and this horse has won four in a row, so to win five in a row is big and puts us squarely in the picture for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
“It was the owner, Tom Kagele who picked the horse. I wouldn’t have picked him. His form was too bad to claim him, but I did like that he had run some fast races in the past. We thought if we could get him back into that form, he could be a very nice horse. You never think you’re going to claim one and win a Grade 1 with them.
“We’re definitely leaning toward the Sprint, he’s won the last (five) going one turn. We’re going to keep him one turn.”