Phil Cunningham's homebred Slim Shadey had not won since his wire-to-wire upset of the Grade 2 San Marcos back in February, but a return to front-running tactics worked the oracle in Sunday's Grade 2, $150,000 John Henry Turf Championship over the same Santa Anita turf course and distance. Now with a local mark of 5-3-1-0, Slim Shadey catapulted himself into the picture for the Breeders' Cup Turf, held right here at his favorite circuit.
The complexion of the John Henry changed early on, as the field crossed over the brief span of the main track before linking up with the turf course proper. When 3-2 favorite Turbo Compressor didn't sprint to the fore as expected, jockey Garrett Gomez called an audible and let Slim Shadey roll. The Simon Callaghan trainee never looked back.
Racing enthusiastically after an opening quarter in :24 on the firm turf, Slim Shadey opened up on the field while winging through splits of :46 4/5 and 1:10 2/5. Brushburn was his nearest pursuer for much of the way, until Turbo Compressor took closer order rounding the far turn. The other prime contenders -- Bourbon Bay and Casino Host -- lagged hopelessly behind at the back of the field.
Slim Shadey passed the mile mark in 1:34 2/5 and still had plenty of gusto entering the stretch. Turbo Compressor tried mightily to close, but the leader kept going. Slim Shadey maintained a 2 1/4-length margin while completing 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.
In the process, Slim Shadey had the satisfaction of avenging his defeat at the hands of Turbo Compressor in the Grade 1 United Nations two back. At Monmouth, Slim Shadey never landed a blow after a troubled start and checked in a subpar fifth, beaten 4 3/4 lengths by the front-running Turbo Compressor. The shoe was on the other foot Sunday. Slim Shadey, the 3-1 second choice, paid $8.40, $3.80 and $3.40.
"Simon wanted me to be laying close with him, if not, then just off the horse on the lead," Gomez said. "We felt like there wasn't a lot of pace in the race, and if he was willing to do so, lay second like I did with him in his last race at Del Mar. Today he was fresh and he really caught me unexpectedly. I never really expected him to be pulling me on the lead like that. I had trouble getting him to settle into a good stride. He kind of just pulled me around there and stretched me out pretty good, but he still finished well and that's a plus."
"It wasn't the plan to be in front," Callaghan said, "but with someone like Garrett [Gomez], when he rides for you, you leave it to him. He's a top-class jockey and I try not to over-complicate it. I said if he wants to take him to the front, that's fine. If Todd's horse [the Pletcher-trained Turbo Compressor], which we all expected to go on, does, then that's also fine.
"He's shown that he's a very good horse today and we'll look forward to the Breeders' Cup now."
Turbo Compressor's connections gave Slim Shadey credit.
"When you come in as the favorite everybody is going to gun for you," jockey Joe Bravo said. "I thought he was going to make up the ground at the top of the lane, but the winner [Slim Shadey] just had too much left."
"I actually thought he'd be a little bit closer," assistant trainer Mike McCarthy said, "but the horse had no excuse. He ran well."
There was a blanket finish 1 1/2 lengths behind Turbo Compressor. Interaction got up for third by a head from Grassy, closely followed by Casino Host, Fire With Fire, Temple's Door and Bourbon Bay. Brushburn trailed the field, and Balladry was scratched.
Casino Host returned to be unsaddled, but was vanned off the track.
Slim Shadey improved his record to 22-4-4-0, $513,114. Runner-up in the 2010 Washington Singer Stakes as a juvenile at Newbury, the dark bay was well beaten in all of his subsequent starts in the British Isles for original trainer Stan Moore. Some of those were against pretty tough company. Most notably, he finished fourth to Frankel in last year's Group 1 Two Thousand Guineas at odds of 200-1.
The British-bred joined Callaghan in Southern California last fall, and after a ninth in his American debut on January 2, he came back 10 days later to capture an entry-level optional claimer at this course and 1 1/4-mile distance.
After registering his first stakes win next time out in the February 11 San Marcos, the four-year-old turned in three straight runner-up efforts. He was just nailed by a head by Bourbon Bay in the Grade 2 San Luis Rey, rallied to be best of the rest behind Little Mike in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, and forced champion Acclamation to pull out a little extra to hold him safe in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Memorial.
Slim Shadey's throw-out fifth in the July 7 United Nations ended his run of strong efforts. Wheeling back two weeks later for the Grade 1 Eddie Read at Del Mar, he lacked his usual sparkle and reported home last of five. Callaghan blames trainer error, and freshened him up for two months ahead of the John Henry.
The Val Royal gelding was produced by the Chief's Crown mare Vino Veritas, herself a half-sister to former Hong Kong Horse of the Year Bullish Luck. An outstanding miler in his adopted homeland, Bullish Luck famously inflicted the first defeat on the mighty Silent Witness in the 2005 Champions Mile. Also in the immediate family are Group 1 star Juvenia, Group 2 winner Millemix and multiple Group 3 scorer In Extremis.
Further back, one finds the great racemare and producer Trillion, dam of another multiple champion in Triptych. Such European standouts as Generous, Imagine, and Moonlight Cloud are other illustrious relatives.