ARCADIA STAKES | PURSE: $200,000 | 4-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 2 | 1 MILE (TURF)
David Heerensperger and Jose Nelson's Winning Prize blew by a loose-on-the-lead Regally Ready and stormed clear in Saturday's Grade 2, $200,500 Arcadia Stakes at Santa Anita. Aside from earning his first North American stakes win, the multiple Argentinean Group 1 hero advertised his claims for the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile over the same course and distance on March 8.
Defending Arcadia champion Suggestive Boy, who had been sidelined by injury since taking last year's Kilroe, ran fairly evenly in fifth in his comeback. Despite the absence, he went off as the 5-2 favorite, slightly preferred to his fellow Argentinean who was also 5-2.
Winning Prize looked ready to make an immediate impact on the turf division last summer. In his debut for Neil Drysdale, the son of Pure Prize wired a Del Mar optional claimer by four lengths in a sparkling 1:32 ⅘ on firm ground. Winning Prize then shipped to Keeneland to challenge Wise Dan in the October 5 Shadwell Turf Mile, but a sudden deluge forced the race onto the Polytrack. Although Winning Prize ran creditably in fourth, five lengths behind upsetter Silver Max, he didn't show his customary speed. Winning Prize was happier back on turf in the November 29 Citation Handicap at Hollywood, where he led early and held on for a close, grudging third to Silentio and Summer Front on a good course.
Unraced in the interim, Winning Prize got a firm surface in the Arcadia. But he didn't get the early lead. Regally Ready, best known as the winner of the 2011 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint who has recently reinvented himself as a miler, sped to the fore. As Regally Ready opened up through splits of :23 and :46 seconds, Winning Prize was content to sit in second for Rafael Bejarano.
Rounding the far turn, the field began to close in on Regally Ready through six furlongs in 1:09 ⅖, and Winning Prize was poised to pounce. Regally Ready wasn't about to yield, however, and kept on determinedly. Yet Winning Prize had too much firepower to be denied, and drew away a ready 1 ½-length winner while clocking 1:32 ⅘.
"The last time I rode him at Del Mar, we were on the lead the whole way," Bejarano said. "This time, I wanted to try something different because I knew there was some speed in here, especially [trainer Steve] Asmussen, with his two horses [Regally Ready and fellow stretch-out sprinter Unbridled's Note].
"I thought he would send one to the lead and let his other come from behind. I decided to let whatever horse wanted to go to the lead and I would just follow right behind. I just tried to get him relaxed and he did, the whole race. When it came to the stretch, I just let him go. You learn something new everyday! He always liked to be on the lead but you try something new, and it worked."
"I just told Rafael, 'If one of the Asmussen horses wanted to go, both are speed horses, just let them go,'" Drysdale said.
Tom's Tribute edged Regally Ready by a neck for runner-up honors. Unbridled's Note reported home another half-length away in fourth. Next came Suggestive Boy, No Jet Lag and Procurement. Peace and Justice was an early withdrawal, while Vagabond Shoes and Si Sage were likewise scratched.
Jockey Joe Talamo commented that Suggestive Boy would benefit from this tightener.
"He just got a little tired today," Talamo said. "He was coming off a long layoff. I was very happy with my position. I was only a length off the winner [early], so I was happy with that but the last part of the race they just out-quickened him. So, he was just tired and I think it sets him up for his next race."
Winning Prize, who paid $7.40 to win, improved his scorecard to 12-7-1-1, $400,840. An 11-length romper at second asking in his native Argentina, he quickly added a pair of Group 1 events for juveniles, the Raul Y Raul E. Chevalier and the Gran Criterium. Winning Prize was upset in his three-year-old debut in the Gran Premio Dos Mil Guineas, finishing second to Johnny Guitar. He made an unsuccessful switch to dirt when seventh in the Gran Premio Polla de Potrillos. Rebounding on his return to turf, Winning Prize captured his final two outings in Argentina, and notably recorded his third Group 1 score in the Joaquin S. de Anchorena. He made his winning U.S. debut off an eight-month holiday last August.
"The owners decided not to rush him," Drysdale said of his U.S. campaign, "and it's working out well, because you have a long year this year. It started out right and then it all went south in Kentucky [in the Shadwell Mile]. I've never seen it rain so hard in my life -- the whole thing was submerged."
Drysdale explained why Winning Prize hadn't been seen since the Citation.
"There wasn't anywhere to run," the Hall of Famer said. "Plus, it's going to be a long year for him, so there was no rush. He'll come back in the Kilroe if everything is all right."
Bred by Haras de la Pomme, Winning Prize is out of the You and I mare Winning Ways. This is the family of Australian Group 1-winning sire Northern Meteor, and further back, English/Irish champion and sire Apalachee, Irish champion Belted Earl and Grade 1 queen Hail Atlantis (dam of noted sire Stormy Atlantic).
Winning Prize's fifth dam is 1965 Horse of the Year Moccasin, full sister to 1961 champion two-year-old colt Ridan and to multiple stakes-winning sire Lt. Stevens. Other all-stars in the maternal line include champions and outstanding sires Sadler's Wells and Nureyev, English/Irish champion Thatch and U.S. Hall of Famer Gamely.