Since the retirement of T.H. Approval, the Southern California male turf division has been a knot. In Sunday's $150,000 San Luis Obispo Handicap (gr. IIT), it was the French-bred Obrigado's turn to win.
"We've been waiting for this day," co-owner Gary Seidler said afterward. "We thought of renaming him Overdue."
Obrigado was attempting the 12-furlong distance for the first time, although he has always given the impression he'd last that long for trainer Neil Drysdale. The 4-year-old gelded son of Enrique was coming off a close third-place finish in the 1 1/4-mile San Marcos (gr. IIT) behind 'Obispo rivals One Off and Notable Guest. Prior to that he was second in last year's Hollywood (gr. IT), Oak Tree (gr. IIT), and Del Mar (gr. IIT) derbies while closing in each at intermediate distances.
Jockey Garrett Gomez kept Obrigado on the outside of 2-1 choice Notable Guest as they tracked the run-off pacesetter Bravo Maestro, who struck a double-digit lead as the determined front-runner through fractions of :47 1/5, 1:11 2/5 and 1:36 3/5. Bravo Maestro led by 18 lengths after a mile, but those splits caught up with leader on the far turn. Notable Guest swept past to get the lead with a quarter-mile to run, but Obridgado was right with him. Obrigado, on the outside, put away the favorite to open up by a length leaving the eighth pole, then held on gamely for a measured half-length victory in a time of 2:27 1/5 on a firm turf.
“When I rode him at Hollywood Park (Hollywood Derby), he acted like a horse who wanted to go a mile and a half or further," Gomez said. "The concern today was that there was no pace. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but when (Bravo Maestro) took off like he did crossing the dirt, I just decided to ignore him and sit close to the horses I knew we’d have to beat. Neil’s done a great job with him, and we got lucky with where we were and he really kicked through the lane.”
The day wasn't perfect for Drysdale, who also trains the original runner-up, San Marcos winner One Off, who finished a nose in front of On the Acorn. One Off, ridden by Brice Blanc, was disqualified for interfering with On the Acorn in the stretch and was dropped to third. On the Acorn, claimed for $40,000 in November, was moved up to second with Julien Leparoux aboard. Runaway Dancer was the third nose on the wire for second and landed in fourth.
“He’s trained like a mile and half horse, and he ran like a mile and half horse," Drysdale said of Obrigado. "I’m very pleased with his performance, but a little disappointed One Off got taken down, but that’s the way it is. It was a strangely run race as far as pace, and I was concerned that (Obrigado) didn’t have any cover. He was out there just galloping along and he’s a European horse, and they want to be covered up."
Drysdale said the $200,000 San Luis Rey Handicap (gr. IIT) at 1 1/2 miles on the Santa Anita turf March 24 could be next for Obrigado.
One Off and Obrigado shared the top weight assignment of 117 pounds.
Obrigado's only previous win in seven U.S. starts came in a division of the Oceanside for 3-year-olds at Del Mar in July. But the consistent bay has been in the money in all but one of his American starts. Obrigado won three of seven starts in his native France. Seidler, of Beverly Hills, co-owns Obrigado with Peter Vegso.
Obrigado now owns a 5-3-3 record in 15 lifetime starts with earnings of $417,654.
Sent off as the second choice in the field of seven, Obrigado paid $9.80, $5, and $3.40. The British-bred On the Acorn, making his graded stakes debut for trainer Mike Mitchell, returned $8.40 and $4.60, completing an $82.60 exacta. One Off, another English-bred, was $3.60 to show.
Runaway Dancer was followed by Notable Guest, Atlando, and Bravo Maestro. A.P. Xcellent scratched.