The $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic presented by Pepsi Cola may have been the "last big dance" for California-bred millionaire Bold Chieftain, and if so, the battling 7-year-old went out to a chorus of hails with his scintillating neck win at Santa Anita Jan. 30 (VIDEO).
Ridden by Russell Baze, the hard-hitting 7-year-old veteran burst through an opening in deep stretch to get the lead and held off the Canadian invader Palladio in the final strides to pick up his 12th stakes victory for trainer Bill Morey Jr. The winning time for the 1 1/8-mile Pro-Ride event was 1:48.33.
The outcome ended the six-race winning streak of 11-10 choice The Usual Q. T., the grade I winner who pulled early while pressing the solid pace established by Enriched. The Usual Q. T., who built his winning streak on the turf, gave way in the lane to finish last in the field of nine.
Palladio, coming off a two-length win in Woodbine's Autumn Stakes (Can-II) Nov. 14, closed in the middle of track for Mike Smith to just miss against Bold Chieftain, who appeared to let up a bit after getting the lead. Unusual Smoke, with Martin Garcia aboard, finished one length back in third at odds of 50-1.
Morey, who was a little choked up after the emotional win, said before the race that this might be the horse's last time around after a long career that included two wins in the California Cup Classic. But retirement may be on hold for a while.
"He was really going to have to jump up with a monster today to continue thinking of going on (racing)," the Northern California-based Morey said, "and he came through, so I guess he wants to keep going. He’s got the ball. If he doesn’t want to do it anymore, just let us know, but when he runs races like this, it’s pretty hard not to be looking down the road at another one.”
Baze kept Bold Chieftain to the rear of the nine-horse field, hoping for one big run in the stretch, but it almost didn't happen.
"We were in some pretty tight straights there turning for home," said the world's leading rider in terms of victories. "I didn’t know if I was going to get through or not, but a hole presented itself coming to the three-sixteenths and we got through, but then I had to check up and we clipped heels. Even though we got through I had that horse (Unusual Smoke) laying on me, and it’s hard for a horse to move when he’s got horses laying on him like that, but he did it.”
"These are the kinds of things that leave you breathless and make the game so much fun, and we’re supposed to have fun out here," Morey added. "There’s a little bit of money in it, too.”
Some $275,000 to be exact, boosting Bold Chieftain's career bankroll to $1,406,411. The son of Chief Seattle—Hooked on Music (by Seattle Dancer) improved his overall mark to 15-6-4 in 34 races. The winning owners are Bay Area residents Dwaine Hall, Ernest Langbein, Ken Robinson and Morey, who also bred the dark bay.
Enriched, with The Usual Q. T. in close attendance, ripped off quick quarter-mile fractions for the opening six furlongs of :23.31, :46.77 and 1:10.91 and both paid the price when they weakened in the stretch.
Bold Chieftain, sitting in seventh early, came three wide into the stretch and steadied when boxed in mid-stretch. Baze found room between Unusual Smoke and the Acclamation, who had taken the lead inside the eighth pole. Under right-handed urging, Bold Chieftain struck the front and got the job done in game style over Palladio, who took the overland route for Smith.
“This ranks right up there with any race I’ve ever won, anywhere," Baze said.
Bold Chieftain was coming off a fourth-place finish in Santa Anita's San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II) Jan. 9 when he was outfinished in a race that Morey felt he may have needed. That snapped a three-race win streak to conclude last season's campaign.
"We were really gearing for this one," Morey said. "This is the one we were after. We stayed here. We didn’t go back up Highway Five (to his Bay Area headquarters). We camped out here at Santa Anita."
Sent off as the distant second choice, Bold Chieftain paid $12.20, $4.80 and $4 while heading a $73.60 exacta. Palladio, from the 2009 Sovereign Award-winning Roger Attfield barn, returned $6.60 and $4.40. Unusual Smoke, one of four horses in the race sired by Unusual Heat, was $13.40 to show as the longest shot in the field.
The late-running Jeranimo finished fourth, followed by Acclamation, Enriched, a troubled Wicked Style, Unusual Suspect and The Usual Q. T.
“The race set up badly for us," said trainer James Cassidy of The Usual Q. T. "There was too much pressure too early . . . my horse got rank. We’ll discuss whether he’ll go back on grass, but right now, that’s certainly what I would think.”