Halo Najib, one of Zayat Stables' 11 Triple Crown nominees, swung out four wide heading into the stretch and then rolled to a 2 3/4-length victory in the $150,000 colts and geldings division of the Darely OBS Championship Stakes Monday afternoon in Central Florida. Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, the 3-year-old chestnut son of Halo's Imagenotched his second career victory, remaining undefeated on synthetic surfaces.
Produced from the Sword Dance mare Najibe's Wish, Halo Najib completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.40. Hello From Heaven was second, and Ghostly Thunder finished third.
"We're going to have a meeting in the morning with Mr. Zayat and all his trainers," said Halo Najib's trainer Dale Romans after being asked where the colt would run next. "We'll see where all his 3-year-olds are going to go and try to keep them separated. It's a good shot we would point him towards the Lane's End Stakes (gr. II) at Turfway Park (which has a Polytrack surface), but I don't want to say until we talk about it tomorrow. The key today was to get him to relax behind some horses, and it worked. Kent did a great job with him."
Halo Najib made his career debut on Polytrack last October at Keeneland and broke his maiden by 1 3/4 lengths. He then was second in the Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) and fifth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II), both at Churchill Downs. In his only other effort this year, Najib's Wish was third in the Jan. 5 Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park.
"We’re serious about the horse," said Sobhy Sonbol, racing manager and vice president of Zayat Stables. "We think he's got tons and tons of ability. This was a good spot to run him back around two turns again after sprinting. The field wasn't too tough."
Halo Najib stalked the early pace set by Dynhocracy and relaxed well in third, according to Desormeaux. The Zayat colt got boxed in on the second turn but was able to shake free soon enough to get into high gear approaching the wire. Halo Najib glided away from the field, with Desormeaux giving him a hand ride in the final yards.
"Once those horses folded over in front of him, he hit cruise," Desormeaux said. "I had a great time. It was all kind of laid back, more like the days when it was everybody's horses against each other's horses in the backyard. It felt good, kind of like a bush track."
The race was one of five on the card for the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s Day of Champions, which was sponsored by Sheikh Mohammed's Darley operation for the first time and was conducted over the auction firm's new Safetrack synthetic surface.
"Look at the turnout," said Halo Najib's exuberant owner, Zayat Stables' Ahmed Zayat, of the crowd -- estimated by OBS officials at around 5,000 -- that filled the bleachers on a sunny afternoon. "Darley did a fantastic job. They are to be commended for really, really promoting the industry and investing tons of money. They're doing it the right way. It's a gorgeous day; it's what racing's all about."
In the $100,000 fillies division of the Darley OBS Championship Stakes, Calico Bay strolled to an eight-length victory over Indy's Alexandra after rallying late. Carrying jockey Manoel Cruz, the 3-year-old daughter of Three Wondersturned in the same 1 1/16-mile time as Halo Najib while capturing the third victory of her career and running for the first time away from Calder Race Course in South Florida. Her efforts last year included a four-length triumph in her career debut and another four-length win in the My Dear Girl Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes. She came into the OBS race off a fourth-place finish in the Jan. 1 Tropical Park Oaks.
"She can run on anything," said trainer Bill Kaplan. "She can run short; she can run long; she can run on grass or a synthetic track; she can do anything you ask her to do. She's a phenomenal filly with more class than just about any other filly that I've ever had. She's just a sweetheart. My rider told me she would have won by 20 lengths, but when she got in front, she started looking around for somebody to run with."
Said Cruz: "When she took the lead, she looked here and there, and she stopped a little bit, but she did good anyway."
Kaplan wasn't sure where Calico Bay would run next. "I have no idea right now," the trainer said. "We're going to take them one at a time."
In the afternoon's other races, Banga Ridge nosed out Orinoquia in the $50,000 filly division of the Darley OBS Sprint Stakes; Ben and the Twin triumphed by 3 3/4 lengths in the $75,000 colt and gelding division of the Darley OBS Sprint Stakes; and Straight Face scored by 1 3/4 lengths in the $50,000 Florida Thoroughbred Charities Stakes. Straight Face was ridden by Edgar Prado, who notched his 6,000th career win on Feb. 10 at Gulfstream.