Favored Madeo, given a confident ride by Mike Smith, charged down the middle of the Hollywood Park turf course to win the $100,000 Inglewood Handicap (gr. IIIT) by a head on April 26.
With a slow pace, Smith kept Madeo a little closer to the pace than usual before letting the 4-year-old son of Mizzen Mast go in the upper stretch of the 1 1/16-mile test. Madeo responded willingly, sweeping past four rivals and getting up in the final couple of strides to defeat the stubborn frontrunner Storm Military. U S Ranger finished third, a head farther back.
The victory completed a hat-trick for the 43-year-old Smith, a member of the Hall of Fame who has ridden 4,781 winners since breaking his maiden in 1982 at Sante Fe, N.M.
Winner of the Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) last summer, Madeo earned his second graded victory for his breeder and owner, Jerry and Ann Moss, and trainer John Shirreffs. Both of the bay colt's stakes wins have come on the turf after he began his career racing on synthetic tracks. Madeo has won five of 13 starts overall.
"He's got a really, really good turn of foot,” Smith said of Madeo. “I wanted to stay right there when they accelerated because they were going pretty easily, and I knew they were going to finish. He's got such a great little turn of foot . . . he's so agile. When I called on him, he jumped on it. He wanted to hang just a little, but I let him know to go on by and he did. Earlier in his career he was just green at times, and he kind of caused some of the things that happened to him. One time he'd pull, the next time he wouldn't. He's finally figuring things out."
Madeo settled in fifth as Storm Military and jockey Brice Blanc went immediately to the front and had things their own way through pedestrian fractions of :24.29, :49.30 and 1:13.37. U S Ranger was tugging away at jockey Garrett Gomez while pressing Storm Military on the leader's outside, and that's the way they remained into the homestretch after the stalking Worldly gave way.
Though he was coming off an eight-month layoff, the Argentina-bred Storm Military proved resilient on the front end, digging in to get the better of U S Ranger, who was racing without blinkers in his third start in the United States. But Storm Military could not quite hold off Madeo. Smith flashed his whip a couple of times at Madeo in the final furlong, but he didn't use it as the colt won with something left in spite of the close finish. The final time was 1:42.04.
Third in the Arcadia Handicap (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita three weeks ago, Madeo banked $60,000 in the Inglewood to boost his earnings to $463,715. A three-time winner in seven starts on grass, he ran eighth with traffic problems in the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) last fall, his only prior start on the Hollywood lawn.
Since taking a bad step and being pulled up in the San Fernando Stakes (gr. II) on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride racing surface Jan. 17, Madeo has won two of three starts, all on the turf. He did not start for nearly two months after the San Fernando incident, although he was apparently not injured.
“He looked good on the backside, very comfortable,” trainer Shirreffs said of the winner. ”He looked like he was in good position, he just needed to finish. We wanted him closer; he was way back in the Arcadia."
As for the future, Shirreffs added: “We can’t take him anywhere, the son of a gun. He doesn’t like anything. You try to do something with him, and he just walks over the top of them. Unless he’s home he is unhappy. But he is maturing now, he’s maturing a lot. He’s developing a style too. He’s repeating his performances and developing a running style. He’s very versatile.”
Madeo, who is out of the Deputy Minister mare Passion Flower, paid $6.60, $3.40 and $2.60 as the 2-1 pick in the field of seven older horses. Storm Military, trained by Bobby Frankel, returned $4.80 and $3. The show payoff on U S Ranger, who faced top competition in Europe last year and is now in Neil Drysdale's stable, was $3.
Storm Military gave a superb effort considering the layoff.
"We had a perfect trip,” Blanc said. “It kind of set up that way on paper. He relaxed nice and finished up good. He ran his guts out. He hadn't run since Del Mar and Bobby did a great job just getting him that close."
Awesome Gem finished a close fourth, followed by Becrux, Worldly and Medjool. Silent Soul and Mr Napper Tandy, winner of the April 25 San Francisco Mile (gr. IIT) at Golden Gate Fields, scratched.