ARCADIA, CA – Mongolian Stable’s Mongolian Groom invaded the winner’s circle with a major upset effort in Saturday’s $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park.
The Awesome Again is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event, with Mongolian Groom receiving an automatic berth in the Classic at Santa Anita Park this November. Because Mongolian Groom is not nominated, his connections will have to supplement his entry.
Breaking from post 5 under Abel Cedillo, Mongolian Groom found himself on the lead heading into the clubhouse turn while Isotherm kept closest watch. The 1/5 favorite McKinzie watched from third under Mike Smith, who steered him three-wide out into the clear early.
Mongolian Groom set measured fractions of :23.99, :48.29, and 1:12.07 while McKinzie loomed dangerously on the outside. Nearing the far turn’s exit, McKinzie ranged up and looked ready to shoot past the pacesetter in the stretch, but Mongolian Groom had other ideas.
Fighting back along the rail against McKinzie’s challenge, Mongolian Groom refused to let the bettors’ choice get his nose past. Re-rallying at the 1/16 pole, Mongolian Groom surged ahead with a big burst for the win.
The Enebish Ganbat trainee completed the 1 1/8-mile event over the fast main track in a final time of 1:49.27, 2 1/4 lengths ahead of McKinzie.
“Thank you, Enebish Ganbat, for trusting me,” said Cedillo, who earlier on the card won his first local stakes race in the John Henry Turf Championship Stakes (G2). “He told me, ‘Don’t change anything, just do what you do with him. Just stay close.’ I saw McKinzie didn’t go, so I took the lead.”
Despite being unable to pass the winner in the stretch, McKinzie was 5 1/4 lengths clear in second. The Bob Baffert trainee has finished no worse than second in 12 of his 13 career starts.
“I thought I could go with the two outside horses (early), but they seemed like they were determined to get it,” Smith said. “I let them go, figuring they’d entertain each other and we’d do what we do. (Mongolian Groom) ran a huge race today. We lost the battle, but this ain’t the war.”
Higher Power stumbled badly out of the gate but recovered before eventually finishing third. The John Sadler trainee qualified for the Classic after winning the Pacific Classic Stakes (G1) last time out. Seeking the Soul, Draft Pick, and a spent Isotherm completed the order of finish.
Mongolian Groom’s win was his first since taking a mile-long allowance race here on February 1. The 4-year-old gelded son of Hightail now carries a record of 16-3-2-3 with $579,141 earned.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect he was going to win because he was running against two of the best horses on the dirt and the best two trainers, Baffert and Sadler,” Ganbat said through interpreter Josie Goldberg. “I told everyone I’m happy if he comes in third. I bet $500 on show.”
Mongolian Groom returned $52.80 to win, $8.80 to place, and $3 to show. McKinzie brought back $2.10 to place and $2.10 to show, while Higher Power paid $2.10 to show.