Jerry and Ann Moss' Tiago, guided through a narrow opening at the rail mid-stretch by jockey Mike Smith, went to victory as the even-money choice in the $368,250 Swaps Breeders' Cup (gr. II) (VIDEO) for 3-year-olds at Hollywood Park Saturday.
The grade I winning son of Pleasant Tap chased the pace in fifth while racing off the rail for most of the 1 1/8-mile test before moving into contention coming off the final turn. Facing a choice of angling to the far outside or waiting for room along the inside, Smith stayed cool and got through on the inside of the retreating pacesetter Desert Code en route to a 2 1/2-length win.
The homebred Tiago, who carried 122 pounds, spotting the runner-up Albertus Maximus eight pounds and third-place Souvenir Slew 10, became the fourth horse to win both the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) and the Swaps, which was contested for the 34th time. The others are Temperate Sil (1987), Free House (1997), and Came Home (2002).
The bay colt won the Santa Anita Derby April 7 in just his fourth lifetime start for trainer John Shirreffs. He continues to mature brilliantly as the West Coast's leading 3-year-old. Following a troubled seventh-place effort in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), he ran an encouraging third, 5 1/2 lengths behind Rags to Riches in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) last out June 9.
"We've looked forward to this race and wanted him to run big," Shirreffs said. "This is great. There are a lot of great options for 3-year-olds this summer. We'll look and see what's available. We'll take it step-by-step."
Though he trains at Hollywood Park, Tiago was making his synthetic track debut in the Swaps.
Tiago relaxed well for Smith as Desert Code, tracked by Souvenir Slew and Awesome Gambler, set solid fractions of :23 3/5, :46 4/5 and 1:10 3/5 and continued on the front end until mid-stretch. Albertus Maxiumus, rated off the front-runners along the inside by David Flores, angled out three wide between horses coming off the turn. But it was Tiago, following that one into the lane, who had the most momentum as they fought to the wire. After squeezing through along the inside to get the lead from Desert Code leaving the eighth pole, Tiago edged away from the other challengers under left-hand urging to win.
The winning time of 1:48.76 for the 1 1/8-mile Swaps distance was .05 seconds off the Cushion Track mark established by Saint Stephen in winning the Native Diver (gr. III) Dec. 10.
"Leaving the three-eighths, Victor (Espinoza on Awesome Gambler) was asking his horse and I really didn't want to go around a horse that's already stopping, so I decided to follow Albertus Maximus on through," Smith said. "Then I had to make a decision either to go around him or see if I could get through. Normally, I would have chosen the overland route, but a horse like this absolutely loves the fence. He'll run through anything, so I wasn't worried. All he needed was a little room to get his head through, and he just goes. He's really getting good."
Albertus Maximus, ridden by David Flores, gained second over 23-1 Souvenir Slew and Michael Baze by a head. Affirmed Handicap (gr. III) winner Desert Code faded to fourth, followed by Awesome Gambler and Augment.
“I wasn't in the best position," Flores admitted. "My horse is kind of a free runner, so being on the inside didn't help. All I could do was just wait and hope to get out of there early. But when I got out, Tiago got through. I wanted to beat Tiago to the punch, but it didn't work out that way."
Tiago, who is out of the Stop the Music mare Set Them Free, earned $220,950 for his third win in seven lifetime starts. He has banked $815,270.
The winner paid $4, $2.60, and $2.10.
Albertus Maxiumus, second in the Affirmed last time for trainer Gary Mandella, returned $3.20 and $2.60.
”I’m proud of him," Mandella said of the runner-up. "The trip didn’t set up perfect. He was inside and surrounded by horses. I was hoping he wouldn’t have a bottled-up trip. He’s such a long-striding horse.”
Souvenir Slew, coming off a third-place showing on the grass in the Colonial Turf Cup (gr. IIIT) at Colonial Downs June 16, was $3.80 to show.
"I would have liked to get that head bob for second, but he’s grade II stakes-placed," trainer Craig Dollase said of Souvenir Slew. "Not bad for a horse who’s still got his first condition.”