Liberian Freighter, taking full advantage of the scratch of favored Sidney's Candy in the $150,000 Oak Tree Mile (gr. IIT) (VIDEO), outfought Colgan's Chip in deep stretch for a nose victory at 22-1 odds Oct. 9 on the turf at Hollywood Park.
The longest shot on the board in the six-horse field, Liberian Freighter earned his way into the $2 million TVG Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) Nov. 6 on the Churchill Downs grass.
Neil Drysdale trains the California-bred 5-year-old Bertrando gelding for owners Shawn L. Dugan, Chuck Winner and the estate of Ed Nahem, who bred the winner under the banner of KIng Edward Racing Stable.
"We'll have to talk to Neil about it," Winner said of a possible Breeders' Cup Mile try. "I hadn't frankly thought about it, but now maybe we will."
Liberian Freighter made it back-to-back nose victories after winning the Harry F. Brubaker Stakes on Del Mar's turf course in his previous race Aug. 25. He won for the fourth time in six lifetime starts on the Hollywood Park lawn.
“It set up well, and he relaxed well," said Drysdale after winning his record sixth Oak Tree Mile. "It was set up with the two speed horses in front of him, and he ran a blinder. He ran very well."
Drysdale isn't giving the Breeders' Cup Mile much thought however, indicating Liberian Freighter would run back in the California Cup Mile Oct. 30 instead.
“He had a lovely trip, and he got a lovely ride," he said. "I’m delighted. My wife (Shawn) owns a piece of him, so I’m even happier.”
Sidney's Candy was scratched the morning of the race by trainer John Sadler due to the 3-year-old colt's pending sale by owner and breeder Jenny Craig to an undisclosed buyer.
That threw the pace scenario in the Oak Tree Mile into doubt, with the void filled by Tropic Storm, ridden by Russell Baze. Liberian Freighter, with Martin Garcia aboard, stalked in third behind Colgan's Chip and Brice Blanc, who dueled early for the lead before falling back a bit at the rail. Tropic Storm was in control while carving solid fractions of :23.01, :45.78, and 1:09.78, but he was under strong pressure from Colgan's Chip again late on the final turn as they left the quarter pole.
Colgan's Chip and Tropic Storm continued to battle to mid-stretch, when Colgan's Chip put his head in front. Liberian Freighter had a couple of lengths to make up, but rallied under urging from Garcia to draw even, getting up in the final strides.
Garcia said he wanted to let Tropic Storm and Colgan's Chip fight it out on the front end.
"I had no intention of going to the lead," he said. "The main thing was to break well and then just let him be where he wanted to be. He ran with really good horses today, not like last time. Today it was a really tough race. He's been improving a lot. He's really game."
It was 2 1/4 lengths back to Tropic Storm in third. Second choice Meteore finished fourth, followed by 8-5 favorite Victor's Cry , who trailed into the stretch and could not muster a challenge for jockey Corey Nakatani. Blue Chagall was last.
Liberian Freighter registered his eighth lifetime win in 22 starts and bumped his earnings to $571,740 with the $90,000 winning prize.
He paid a whopping $46.40, $15.40, and $6.60. Colgan's Chip, another California-bred gelding, returned $8 and $6 in his graded stakes debut for trainer Jenine Sahadi. Tropic Storm, front-running winner of Del Mar's Windy Sands Handicap on Polytrack in his last start, was $3.80 to show.