The Oct. 5 City of Hope Stakes (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita Park was meant as a trial run for 3-year-old No Jet Lag, one that would determine if he belonged in the upcoming Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT). The speedy bay gelding aced that test when he finished in 1:31.84—just six one-hundreths of a second off the record 1:31.78 set in last year's Mile by Horse of the Year Wise Dan. Now 30-year-old trainer Simon Callaghan has his third consecutive Breeders' Cup starter gearing up for a run at $2 million in the Nov. 2 Mile.
At 30, Callaghan has already accomplished much in the racing game. He successfully moved his fledgling operation from England to Southern California in 2009, brought multiple grade I winner Dubawi Heights to the top of the West Coast filly and mare turf division in 2011, and saw strong turf male Slim Shadey win a grade II stakes on the Santa Anita lawn in 2012.
Both of those runners contested the Breeders' Cup World Championships, and although they did not win, Callaghan has accomplished a feat in and of itself by lining up yet another contender for the sport's biggest two-day event. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith gets the mount from post one in the Mile aboard the graded stakes-winning son of Johar.
No Jet Lag, owned by Anthony Ramsden, is undefeated since coming to the U.S. this summer to join Callaghan's string. He won a first-level allowance optional claiming event on Aug. 11 in his stateside debut at Del Mar, then came back to upset the City of Hope at odds of 13-1 over fellow Mile starters He Be Fire N Ice and Obviously, the latter a record-setting multiple grade I winner who finished third in the 2012 edition of the Mile.
"He came to us before Del Mar and he always trained like a really good horse," Callaghan said. "Since we started faster work with him, he showed a lot of talent. We started off in the 'a other than' and he won that well, and since then he just really blossomed and progressed, doing everything well in the morning. It's exciting to have the horse, really.
"We took the chance and stepped him up in company into the grade II. He was always Breeders' Cup nominated because he was by Johar, and we always kind of had it in the back of our minds that he would make it here, but he did have to go out and do well on the track, to prove that he belonged."
No Jet Lag earned a flashy Beyer Speed Figure of 105 in the City of Hope with Smith in the irons.
"We kind of knew going into that race, I suppose, it was really going to tell us where we stood with the horse," Callaghan said. "He just missed the track record and the way he did it, when Mike got off the horse, he said, 'This is a Breeders' Cup kind of horse!' It was what we wanted to hear, and I think just the way he did it, this was the obvious way to go with him."
Bred in Kentucky by Greenwood Lodge Farm out of the stakes-winning Green Desert mare Desert Sky, No Jet Lag ran six times in England and once in Ireland before he was purchased by Ramsden to come to the U.S., with two wins and a second on his resume across the pond.
"He actually had quite good form earlier in England, but they ran him as a 3-year-old on soft ground, and they sprinted him," Callaghan said. "He really relishes this hard ground here in California, and he's very exciting, the way he's trained. He's such an incredibly, good-moving horse."
It wouldn't necessarily be the logical route to jump a young runner from an allowance to a grade II, or from a grade II to the Breeders' Cup, for that matter. Then again, one wouldn't necessarily think a young trainer who worked in America for trainer Todd Pletcher and took over from his father Neville at Rathmoy Stables in Newmarket in 2008 would be holding his own on the Southern California circuit, returning to the Breeders' Cup for the third time in a row.
Callaghan considers No Jet Lag to be one of the best runners he's ever conditioned—and on the racing world's biggest stage, they're just getting started.
"The Breeders' Cup is one of those things I've watched since I was really young, it's been a series of races that has always really fascinated me," the trainer said. "To have a horse in the Mile that we believe is really very live is very exciting. It makes all the hard work that the team puts in every day worthwhile."