Jockey Corey Nakatani earned his 2,999th career win Monday when he guided Ballygallon Stud's homebred Aragorn, the longest shot on the board, to victory in the $321,000 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) on the Hollywood Park turf.
Nakatani gained victory 3,000 – his fourth on the Memorial Day card – in the next race when he weaved first-time starter Shakin N Dancin through traffic in the stretch to a maiden special weight victory.
The Neil Drysdale-trained Aragorn has been close to breaking through as one of the nation's top turf milers all season and got the perfect set-up in the Shoemaker. Breaking from the outside in the field of six (with the scratch of stablemate Terroplane), the Irish-bred son of Giant's Causeway
was able to push the pacesetter Willow O Wisp into the stretch.
Aragorn gained the lead as Willow O Wisp gave way and edged away down the lane to score under strong urging by 1 3/4 lengths over Charmo, who nipped the 19-10 choice Silent Name by a neck for second. The final time, 1:32 4/5, was one tick off the track and stakes record.
"He's just a tremendous horse," Nakatani said. "He's always laid his body down every time you ask him to go out on the racetrack, and that's really all you can ask. I could tell that he was full of run. And when I asked him the question to kick on he did ... it was a pretty good race. He took off. It was awesome."
Willow O Wisp, a winner of three of four on the Hollywood Park turf coming into the Shoemaker, broke in the air but hustled to the front while setting a slow but building pace of :24 3/5, :47 4/5 and 1:10 3/5. Aragorn spotted the front-runner nearly two lengths early while Silent Name and Charmo, on the inside, stalked in third and fourth but did not show their customary late lick.
"He ran very good, we just didn't get there today," said Martin Pedroza, who rode Charmo.
Victor Espinoza blamed a slow pace for Silent Name's third-place finish.
"He ran good. It's just they went a little bit slow on the front, and by the time he got rolling at the end he just couldn't catch up with the winner," Espinoza said. "I think he ran his race, now all we can do is get ready for the next."
Sent off at odds of 13-2, Aragorn paid $15, $6.20 and $3.20. The French-bred Charmo, who defeated Aragorn by one length in the San Francisco Breeders' Cup (gr. IIT) at Golden Gate Fields in their last start, returned $5 and $3 while completing a $53 exacta. Japanese-bred Silent Name, defeated for the first time in three U.S. starts, was $2.40 to show.
"The race actually came up just as we expected in the paddock," said Drysdale, who previously won the Shoemaker with Irish Prize in 2001 and Labeeb in 1998. "We thought it'd be fairly soft speed. He came into this race very well. His training for the other race (San Francisco Mile) was a bit interrupted. Hopefully we've got a good year ahead of us."
Willow O Wisp ran fourth, followed by Diamond Green and Milk It Mick.
Nakatani has won the Shoemaker previously three times – twice aboard Silic (1999 & 2000) and Fastness (1996).
Aragorn, a winner of one of five starts in Ireland and Great Britain for trainer David Loder before transferring to Drysdale last summer, concluded his 3-year-old campaign with a nose victory in the Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT) on the Santa Anita sod in October. The chestnut colt returned to action in the Frank Kilroe Mile (gr. IT) at Santa Anita in March when he lost a head decision to Milk It Mick. Then came his game effort against Charmo in Northern California.
Aragorn has two wins and three runner-up finishes in his five United States starts, all but one in grade I and grade II company. Overall, his record is 3-4-1 in 10 starts and his earnings – thanks to the $204,600 winning share Monday – stands at $465,325.
The winner is out of the Mr. Prospector mare Onaga.