ARCADIA, CA – The 25th time proved to be the charm for Cleopatra’s Strike on Saturday when the grizzled veteran finally broke through for his first graded score in the $200,000 John Henry Turf Championship Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park.
Breaking from post 3 under Abel Cedillo at 9/1 odds, Cleopatra’s Strike settled into fourth while his Phil D’Amato stablemate Acclimate played catch-me-if-you-can up front. The pacesetter led by over 4 lengths at one point while posting fast opening fractions of :22.79, :46.05, 1:09.75, and 1:34.28.
As the field rounded the far turn, Acclimate’s advantage had shrunk, with his stablemate leading the charge. Cleopatra’s Strike ranged up alongside Acclimate at the 1/8 pole, but the pacesetter refused to yield and fought back gamely.
In the last few jumps, Cleopatra’s Strike made a final push, surging ahead to hit the wire 1 length clear in a final time of 1:58.22 for the 1 1/4-mile event over the firm turf course.
“Phil told me, ‘Make sure to keep him off the pace,'” said Cedillo after winning his first local stakes. “If he was going to stay with Acclimate, it was going to go bad. I knew if I could keep him on the bit, he was going to come home. I got a perfect trip. I was just sitting inside and everybody got tired, and I just went. I tried to go with (Acclimate) because I know that horse is tough on the lead. As soon as I got close to him, I knew I had it.”
Acclimate was 3/4 lengths clear of the 2/1 favorite United to give D’Amato the exacta, which paid $43.90 for $1. Oscar Dominguez attempted to rally from last but could only cut the field in half, finishing fourth over Ritzy A. P. Completing the order of finish came Grecian Fire, Ya Gotta Wanna, and The Street Fighter.
Cleopatra’s Strike was his first win since transferring to D’Amato’s care at the end of 2018; he had finished second in both starts following the switch, once by a nose and once by a head. The 6-year-old gelded son of Smart Strike improved his record to 25-4-9-2 with $376,844 earned.
“I was confident in his ability, I just didn’t know what his distance limitations may or may not be,” D’Amato said. “He trained like a horse that could go a mile and 1/4 and Abel rode him to perfection. It was bittersweet because my other horse was doing those fractions, and to see them both dueling in deep stretch, I’m proud of them both.”
D’Amato was unsure if Cleopatra’s Strike would go to the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) next out or wait for Del Mar’s fall season. Acclimate qualified for the Turf after winning the Del Mar Handicap (G2).
Cleopatra’s Strike returned $20.60 to win, $8.60 to place, and $4.60 to show. Acclimate brought back $5 to place and $3.20 to show, while United paid $2.60 to show.