Jockey Garrett Gomez guided favorite Hyperbaric to victory in the $200,000 Oak Tree Mile (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) to collect his 3,000th career win in impressive style at Santa Anita Sept. 28.
The victory, accomplished in an outstanding time of 1:33.62 on a firm track, guarantees Hyperbaric a slot in the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) over the same course Oct. 25. Owner William Jack Preston and trainer Julio Canani have had past success in the race.
“Winning the race is great, but having Garrett aboard for his 3,000th makes it even more special," said Canani, who earned his fourth Oak Tree Mile win in 10 years. "The horse has been running well in grade I and grade II races. He’s a nice horse, and he proved that as a 3-year-old, and he’s getting better as he gets older.”
Hyperbaric, who returned from a 14-month layoff in February, earned his first graded stakes win. The 5-year-old Sky Classic gelding has won his last three starts -- all with Gomez at the controls -- while compiling a 3-2-2 record in seven starts in 2008.
The 36-year-old Gomez has overcome substance abuse problems and personal issues to become one of the leading riders in the nation over the past three years.
“I’ve had some bumps in the road and I think a milestone like this kind of makes you reflect back and appreciate where you are," Gomez said. "I think I’m a better person because of what I’ve been through. As long as I keep winning, I hope to get to 4,000 pretty quick.”
Preston, with brothers Art and J.R., formed Prestonwood Farm and won the 1996 and '98 BC Mile with Da Hoss in partnership with Wall Street Racing Stable. Canani, for separate owners, took editions of the Mile in in 2001 with Val Royal and in 1999 with Silic.
Canani, though, wasn't prepared to commit to the Breeders’ Cup Mile next. “We’ll play it by ear," he said. "We’ll decide later.”
The key to Hyperbaric's recent success has been keeping him close to the pace, Canani believes, and in the Oak Tree Mile, the bay settled in quickly just on the outside of the front-running Tropic Storm. On a course playing fast, Tropic Storm, ridden by Aaron Gryder, crawled through the first six furlongs in splits of :23.82, :47.81 and 1:10.87.
Near the the quarter pole, Hyperbaric turned up the heat and the two leaders hooked up coming off the turn. Under typical energetic handling from Gomez, Hyperbaric was able to get a head in front down the lane and slowly edged away from Tropic Storm in the final eighth of a mile. Tybalt, making his first U.S. stakes appearance for trainer Bobby Frankel, came flying late on the outside but ran out of room while finishing second, a neck behind Hyperbaric. It was three-quarters of a length to Tropic Storm in third.
“The pace surprised me," Gomez said. "We went a lot slower early than I thought we would. On paper, it didn’t look like it would shape up that way. Out of the gate it looked like everybody was taking back and (Tropic Storm) was going to be on his own, so I gunned my horse up in there to keep him honest.”
Hyperbaric, the 8-5 choice won for the sixth time in 11 starts while boosting his earnings to $414,476 for Prestonwood Racing. W. J. Chamblin bred the winner in Kentucky from the Skywalker mare Teasing Charm.
Earlier this year, Hyerbaric was second in the Arcadia Handicap (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita and third in both the Shoemaker Mile (gr. IT) and the American Handicap (gr. IIT) at Hollywood Park.
He paid $5.20, $2.80 and $2.60. Tybalt, owned by Stonerside Stable, returned $5.80 and $3.60 while completing a $2 exacta worth $24.40. Tropic Storm was $4.40 to show.
Global Hunter, who stalked from the inside as the solid second choice, finished fourth. Dilemma, Ferneley, Hurry Up Austin and Golden Balls followed. Awesome Gem scratched.