Gallant Stables' longshot Majestic Harbor launched a sustained move in the far turn, flew past fading favorite Game On Dude, and only added to his advantage in the stretch to post a 6 1/4-length victory in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes (gr. I) June 28 at Santa Anita Park (VIDEO).
The upset victory at odds of 14-1 marked the first grade I win for Majestic Harbor and his Southern California-based trainer Sean McCarthy. In March, McCarthy notched his first graded stakes score when Majestic Harbor, a 6-year-old son of the late Rockport Harbor, won the Tokyo City Cup Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita.
"The horse had a great week, a great 10 days," McCarthy said. "The 'T's' were crossed, the 'I's' were dotted, and you just hope that when you lead him over there, he fires—and he fired. I couldn't ask for a better trip; I couldn't ask for things to have been any better."
The victory also is huge for Majestic Harbor's dam, the stakes-placed French Deputy mare Champagne Royale. Earlier this year her Street Boss colt Danza won the Arkansas Derby (gr. I). Majestic Harbor was bred in Kentucky by Liberation Farm and Brandywine Farm.
Going into the race, attention was focused on Game On Dude's efforts to join Lava Man as the second horse in the 21st century to win three editions of the Gold Cup, which had been contested as the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) until that track closed at the end of last year and Santa Anita took over the race.
Despite losses by Game On Dude in four of his past five starts going into Saturday's race, the popular 7-year-old Awesome Again gelding was sent off as the 4-5 favorite in a field void of any other U.S. grade I winners.
After Game On Dude and jockey Mike Smith broke well from the inside post, they quickly were engaged by Fury Kapcori and jockey Gary Stevens. The horses and Hall of Fame riders briefly dueled before Smith opted to let Stevens take the lead and Fury Kapcori opened a clear advantage the first time under the wire.
With Game On Dude tracking from second, Fury Kapcori led through a half-mile in :45.39 and six furlongs in 1:09.80. Game On Dude launched his bid entering the far turn but Majestic Harbor, who had been tracking in third under Tyler Baze, would soon follow with his best and seize a half-length advantage at the quarter pole.
In midstretch Baze and Majestic Harbor opened up 2 1/4 lengths on Clubhouse Ride and only added to that advantage to the wire. Clubhouse Ride held second, hitting the board in a grade I race for a third time; while Imperative, who entered off a win over Game On Dude in the Charles Town Classic Stakes (gr. II), rallied for third to earn his first grade I placing.
As a Breeders' Cup Challenge race, the victory landed Majestic Harbor a spot in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 1 at Santa Anita.
"To do this for Sean, it means a whole lot for the guy that stood by my side," Baze said. "He gave me an opportunity to ride this horse first time out. I've gotten to know him, learn about him and learn how to ride him and I never lost any bit of faith in him.
"From the first time I got on him, I told Sean, 'This horse will make you. We'll win the Breeders' Cup with him.' I'm just looking forward to that and now we're goin' fishing!"
Game On Dude finished fourth. Smith said the early duel was costly.
"I didn't want to be going that fast, but by the time we took back, we were already going real fast," Smith said.
Majestic Harbor completed the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.53 on a fast track. With the winner's check of $300,000 from Saturday's $500,000 race, he nearly doubled his career earnings to $655,764. He has six wins and 10 other placings from 23 starts.
Majestic Harbor paid $30.80 to win, $10.60 to place, and $5.40 to show while Clubhouse Ride returned $5.60 and $4. Imperative paid $4 to show.
McCarthy purchased his breakthrough horse for Ron Beegle's Gallant Stable for just $20,000 at the 2009 Keeneland September yearling sale from the consignment of Brandywine Farm, agent.