For a horse with the name he's been given, Obviously is anything but at the 2012 Breeders' Cup World Championships.
In the $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) where multiple grade I winner Wise Dan, top European contender Excelebration, and 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Animal Kingdomhave stolen the show, a speedy horse on a three-race win streak—last two in graded stakes—flies slightly under the radar.
That's when you know a race is tough.
But so is Obviously, a front-running speedster who set a course record of 1:32.14 on the turf in the Aug. 26 Del Mar Mile (gr. IIT), and was just 0.06 of a second off the track record Oct. 6 at Santa Anita Park when he took the Arroyo Seco Mile (gr. IIT). He hasn't finished off the board since breaking his maiden in July of 2011, and in all but two starts has been victorious or the runner-up. The 4-year-old gelding's tactical method under leading Santa Anita jockey Joe Talamo is now proven and simple—he goes to the front and stays there.
"My horse is a runoff; that's the only way he goes," trainer Mike Mitchell remarked at the Southern California oval early Nov. 1. "It's not like they've got to figure out what Mitchell and Talamo are going to do. You can't grab him, you can't rate him, you can't take a hold of him. You've just got to let him go."
So the lead is where Obviously will be in the Mile, a distance Mitchell has discovered to be his perfect zone. In fact, his connections are so confident in his ability, they put up the $100,000 required to supplement him to the race.
"When we bought him, we thought he was basically going to be —if he was good—a sprinter on the grass, going six and a half furlongs down the hill," the trainer said. "But he kept getting in trouble when we were sprinting him, so I thought, boy, if I route him, I can get him out of trouble. That was the only reason we two-turned him, and he loved it. So with that in mind, we found his best races were two turns, a mile.
"I don't think he's a mile and an eighth, mile and a quarter horse, anything like that. I think going a mile is perfect for him."
The Irish-bred son of Choisir arrived at Santa Anita Oct. 30 from Mitchell's base at Betfair Hollywood Park, and pleased his conditioner with a bullish circuit around the oval Oct. 31 in his first outing on the track.
"I wanted to get a good gallop under him at least one day and we did that yesterday," Mitchell remarked. "Oh, man, it was foggy and so dark and he just took a hold of the rider and galloped so strong. Now all I need to do is school him and jog him, don't need to do too much. He's been a dream to train; he's a gorilla to train. You can see, wow, this is a nice horse. As far as his condition right now goes, all I can say is he's as good as he's ever been. I mean, he just looks like a million dollars."
At 64, Mitchell is seeking his first Breeders' Cup victory and has two shots to get the job done; he also will saddle Camp Victory in the $1 million Turf Sprint (gr. IT). This in itself is remarkable considering a rare brain tumor doctors discovered late this spring. On June 29, the longtime horseman underwent brain surgery, then chemo and radiation treatments. Remarkably, he has pulled through and continues to recover well with the support of his family, wife Denise and daughters McCall Rounsefell and Shea Mitchell, who is engaged to marry jockey Julien Leparoux this December.
Nothing pleases the family more than the fact that Mitchell has successfully returned to training, and they derive great enjoyment from teasing him about the early mornings he's kept since before he took out his license in 1974. With 17 training titles in Southern California and more than 2,600 winners who have brought in nearly $64 million in earnings, old habits die hard.
"I told him, you have two horses in the Breeders' Cup, but we still have to get up at 3 a.m.?!" Denise remarked.
"Everything is good," Mitchell said. "My health is doing good, thank God; I'm feeling stronger. I know Saturday is going to be a long day, all morning, all afternoon, so I've got to save a little bit for the finish line."
The Mitchells are hopeful that the proverbial finish line ends with Obviously in front at the real one, much more noticeable to those who should have backed him. Along with owners Anthony Fanticola and Joseph Scardino, the family has believed in this runner since McCall's husband, Craig "Boomer" Rounsefell, found him at the Tattersalls 2011 Autumn horses in training sale for a 130,000 guineas steal.
Then 3 with two wins under his girth in Ireland including a handicap that earned him a 99 Timeform rating, the runner was a late addition to the sale when selected by Rounsefell and Mitchell's assistant, Phil D'Amato. With a limited budget, the team decided to pass on another horse they had planned to buy in order to afford Obviously, bred by Deidre Cogan out of the Montjeu mare Leala.
"Sometimes this game is like that," Mitchell remarked. "You just hit or you miss. Anyway, we're very, very happy with the way it has turned out."
Obviously has a 6-3-1 record from 11 starts.
"He's done everything we've asked him to do," his trainer said. "He's at the top of his game. He's doing great, but the mile is a good horse race with some quality, quality horses in there. I don't know what the tactics of the other contenders are, but if somebody went with him, he's not going to be the kind of horse that will relax. He's just going to run faster, and that's a speed he can hold. I would have to think if your game plan is to win the race and you go after me early, it's just going to be suicide. That's all."