Gulliver Racing, Craig Drager, and Dan Legan’s Pirate’s Punch took care of unfinished business in Sunday’s $155,000 Salvator Mile (G3) at Monmouth Park, and in the process, advanced his candidacy for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
In his last trip to the Jersey Shore, the Grant Forster trainee scored what would have been a breakthrough first stakes win in the Aug. 22 Philip H. Iselin (G3) – until he was demoted to second for interfering with 1-2 favorite Warrior’s Charge. Pirate’s Punch was instead relegated to another graded placing, after thirds in the 2019 Super Derby (G3) and Feb. 15 Mineshaft (G3).
Pirate’s Punch was on a mission of redemption for himself, and for jockey Jorge Vargas who expressed his gratitude for retaining the mount in the Salvator Mile. In the absence of Warrior’s Charge (bound for Saturday’s Ack Ack [G3] at Churchill Downs), Pirate’s Punch went off as the 2.30-1 favorite at Monmouth and achieved his goals.
As the 23-1 Wind of Change sprinted clear through fractions of :22.69 and :45.80, Pirate’s Punch sensibly bided his time in third. Vargas drove him on to stamp his authority on the far turn, reaching 6 furlongs in 1:11.12, and Pirate’s Punch never relinquished his advantage en route to a two-length decision.
Top Line Growth was best of the rest as the 5-2 second choice, and the 4-1 Bal Harbour rounded out the cold trifecta of the top three in the betting order. Name Changer closed from last for fourth, well clear of Golden Brown, Wind of Change, Prendimi, and turf performer Valid Point who was attempting dirt.
Pirate’s Punch negotiated the mile in 1:37.19 and advanced his resume to 17-5-3-4, $332,751.
“I’m pleased they gave me another chance to ride this horse after the Iselin,” Vargas said. “I didn’t feel what happened that day was all that bad, but I still felt bad about it and apologized to the owners afterward. They told me I did everything right and rode a good race.
“Obviously today we wanted to be on the lead because that’s the best way he has run before, but they went quick early on. I didn’t panic. I just tried to keep him clean. I knew I was on the best horse in the race. After the three-eighths, he just took off. I wasn’t going to challenge that fast early speed. I know this is a good horse and he will get in gear.”
Forster praised the winning ride.
“Credit to Jorge Vargas Jr. He rode a brilliant race,” the trainer said. “He didn’t panic being on the favorite. He knew what he had underneath him. The horse runs the turns very well, and Vargas asked him around the turn and he responded as we know he can.”
Bred by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings in Kentucky, Pirate’s Punch sold for $90,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. The 4-year-old Shanghai Bobby gelding is now officially the third graded winner produced by the Malibu Moon mare Catch the Moon, whose headliner is 2017 Haskell Invitational (G1) and Louisiana Derby (G2) star Girvin. She’s also the dam of Cocked and Loaded, hero of the 2015 Iroquois (G3), and Midnight Bourbon, runner-up in the Sept. 5 renewal on Derby Day.
If Midnight Bourbon makes his way to the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) on Future Stars Friday, he’ll be the opening act for half-brother Pirate’s Punch who will tackle the Nov. 7 Dirt Mile.
“The Breeders’ Cup is one of my dreams so I am hoping this horse goes now,” Vargas said. “To be able to ride him in the Breeders’ Cup would be a dream come true.”
“The Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile is definitely our plan based on these last two races,” Forster said. “For us here in Kentucky it’s a home game this year. He does have one race at Keeneland when he ran very well as he was just starting to improve last fall. I know the owners and I are on board.
“We were treating this as our ‘Win and You’re In.’ He won it, so I guess we have to put our money where our mouth is and give a horse the chance to show what he can do on the national stage.”