Going off at odds of 14-1, the 6-year-old son of Malibu Moon won by 4 1/2 lengths in a four-horse field. Temporary Saint, who was responsible for making Daaher work through the early going, finished second. Daaher, the impressive Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile (gr. I) winner last year, was third, losing in disappointing fashion for the second consecutive time as a 4-year-old.
The defeat now leaves Daaher’s status for the March 29 Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) – or Godolphin Mile (UAE-I) – very much in doubt.
“We’ll look him over and re-group,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “He’s not the same, whether it’s two turns or something else fighting him. He did have surgery as a 2-year-old on a knee, so we’ll have to look real close. Twenty-two and one (opening fraction) didn’t help going that far, but he should have been able to run with those.”
Trained by Gary Contessa, Malibu Moonshine won for the first time in nearly 11 months and snapped an 0-for-7 streak on the inner dirt at Aqueduct. He completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.19 under Mario Pino.
Daaher’s chances for victory were compromised in that opening quarter, as jockey Mike Luzzi decided to engage in an early duel with Temporary Saint. Although Daaher, who was coming off a sound defeat in the Feb. 2 Donn Handicap (gr. I) at Gulfstream, won the early battle, he was clocked at :22.26.
Daaher kept the quick pace through a :46.81 half-mile, with Temporary Saint continuing to stalk under C.C. Lopez. All the while, Pino kept Malibu Moonshine safely tucked away near the rail in third. Ten-year-old gelding Evening Attire trailed the entire way.
Although still holding a narrow advantage after six furlongs, Daaher was showing signs of tiring as they rounded the turn. Temporary Saint eventually took over by a half-length in upper stretch, drawing clear of Daaher with a furlong to go. But Malibu Moonshine, who was swung wide around the final turn, was coming all out. He made the front just before the sixteenth-pole and won going away.
“The race set up real nice for us,” Pino said. “He warmed up beautifully. I was thinking, `He feels really good.’ I didn’t know if that meant he was going to win or not. But he ran well. As soon as he tipped out, I knew he was going to win.”
Contessa said: “The early fractions went a long way in his favor. I was watching the race on TV, and when I saw those orange blinkers coming in at the three-eighths pole, I thought `Wow! We could win this.’ He’s a late closer and I thought those two in front had to be getting tired. This horse has been a bridesmaid to many good horses.
“When Daaher was entered, I was thinking about maybe an optional 75-claimer. But my philosophy is that I don’t duck one horse, and Daaher is only one horse.”
Out of the Coastal mare Time to Coast, Malibu Moonshine won for the tenth time in 39 career efforts. Second to Evening Attire in the 2007 Stymie, his last victory came April 7 in the Pleasant Colony Stakes, also at Aqueduct. He was bred in Florida by Andrea Lamatta.
Malibu Moonshine paid $31.60 and $10.20 (there was no show wagering). The exacta (1-3) was worth $121.50.
Explosive Heat and Kenta Kun were scratched.