ELMONT, NY – Team Valor and Earle Mack’s Spanish Mission invaded the Belmont Park winner’s circle when he got his nose down on the wire to take Saturday’s $1 million Jockey Club Derby Invitational Stakes, the final leg of the Turf Triple series for 3-year-old males.

The Jockey Club Derby is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event, with Spanish Mission receiving an automatic berth in the Longines Turf at Santa Anita Park this November.

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Breaking awkwardly from post 9 as the gates swung open, Spanish Mission and jockey Jamie Spencer found themselves at the rear along the hedges heading into the clubhouse turn. Up front, A Thread of Blue posted comfortable, unpressured fractions of :25.23, :50.77, 1:16.17, and 1:40.01 for the opening mile.

Midway through the far turn, Spencer gradually eased Spanish Mission toward the outside, timing it so that he apexed at the top of the stretch. Set down for the final furlong under a strong drive, Spanish Mission swung past most of the field, but new leader Pedro Cara proved to be a much tougher out.

The two battled noses apart in the shadow of the wire before Spanish Mission was deemed to have gotten his down first. The David Simcock trainee, sent off as the 2/1 favorite, completed the 1 1/2-mile event over the good turf course in a final time of 2:27.58.

Credit: NYRA / Joe Labozzetta

“As the race developed, it was just beautiful to watch,” said Ian Russell, assistant to Simcock. “The further he went, the better he got into it, and he just gets his head down. Jamie dropped his rein, but the horse stayed on and kept to his job. He knows his job, and the further he goes, the better he’s going to be. He’s a lovely horse for the future.”

Despite losing the bob in the photo finish, Pedro Cara was still 3 1/2 lengths clear of the third invading European runner, San Huberto. A Thread of Blue weakened late to finish fourth ahead of Henley’s Joy, who won the first leg of the Turf Triple, the Belmont Derby (G1)Current was sixth ahead of Kadar, while Digital Age and the recent Breeders’ Stakes champion Tone Broke completed the order of finish.

Spanish Mission’s win was his second at the stakes level, having won the Bahrain Trophy (G3) at Newmarket in July, and improved his overall record to 7-3-1-2. The 3-year-old son of Noble Mission, bred in Kentucky but exclusively raced in Great Britain prior to Satuday, has now earned $710,246. 

“He’s a good horse,” said Team Valor’s founder Barry Irwin. “I think he’ll get better with age. When I bought him, the plan was to leave him in Europe this year and then bring him to America next year. Halfway through the season, I realized this is strictly a European horse, and I told my guys, ‘He’s never coming home, but I’ll bring him for this race.'”

Spanish Mission returned $6.20 to win, $4.60 to place, and $3.50 to show. Pedro Cara brought back $25.80 to place and $11.40 to show, while San Huberto paid $7.30 to show.