Caracortado wins the Daytona Stakes.

Caracortado wins the Daytona Stakes.

Benoit Photography

Caracortado's Remarkable Surge Takes Daytona

Gelding tails way off early leaders, charges home on Santa Anita hillside course.

Caracortado took advantage of an all-out pace duel to come from far out of it, winning the $98,000 Daytona Stakes (gr. IIIT) on Santa Anita's hillside turf course with a remarkable late charge Jan. 8 (VIDEO).

As expected Mr Gruff and Regally Ready engaged in a terrific pace battle coming down the hill and appeared to be in a match race as Victory Pete and Caracortado fell far back. But left at the rear on the turn, Caracortado rallied impressively for Rafael Bejarano to sweep past Victory Pete and the pacesetters in the final strides.

In a race featuring some of the best turf sprinters in the the country, Caracortado prevailed by 1 1/4 lengths. Victory Pete, ridden by Martin Garcia, took second and Mr Gruff and Regally Ready finished in a dead-heat for third. The final time for the about 6 1/2-furlong distance on firm going was an excellent 1:11.59.

Bred and trained by Michael Machowsky, Caracortado is owned by Steve Altman's AJL Productions, Don Blahut's Blahut Racing, and Machowsky's Lo Hi Racing. The California-bred 5-year-old chestnut gelding is by Cat Dreams out of the Maria's Mon mare Mons Venus, who is being sold this week by Machowsky at the Keeneland January Sale.

Bejarano, who rode Caracortado for the first time, said he was only following Machowsky's instructions by allowing Caracortado to fall so far off the pace. 

"He told me before the race to wait, and as soon as I close the door that I would have a good turn of foot from the horse," Bejarano said. "He said not to go too early and just wait for one big run. As soon as I closed the door my horse was flying. This is the first horse that I’ve rode that has this kind of finishing speed. He showed me a big kick. It was unbelievable.”

The original field of seven was reduced by the early scratches of Calimonco  and Al Instante. The Daytona lost another starter when Silver Summation was scratched by the track veterinarian after acting up on the pathway from the Santa Anita paddock to the tunnel leading to the track. The 5-year-old threw jockey Garrett Gomez, who injured his left foot in the fall and was taken to the hospital.

With the small field, Regally Ready, winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IIT) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs, was made the 7-5 favorite. Hillside specialist Mr Gruff was 8-5, and multiple graded winner Caracortado was 9-5. Like Regally Ready, Caracortado was making his first start since the Breeder's Cup Turf Sprint, in which he finished fifth with a wide trip.

Regally Ready broke best on the outside for Corey Nakatani but Mr Gruff, ridden by Joel Rosario, came through at the rail to get a narrow advantage. As those two smoked through quarter-mile fractions of :21.55 and :43.03, Victory Pete dropped back in third. Caracortado fell an additional five lengths farther behind Victory Pete. As the field rounded the turn, Caracortado was 15 lengths behind and looked hopelessly beaten.

The front-runners continued to battle through the lane. Mr Gruff held a one-length advantage near mid-stretch but Regally Ready wasn't giving in. Victory Pete, rallying for Garcia in the middle of the track, was the first to reach the leaders in deep stretch. But Caracortado, who cut the corner sharply coming into the homestretch, swept past them all under a strong hand ride from Bejarano on the far outside. They got up in the last jumps to win by a surprisingly comfortable margin.

“He’s got that turn of foot that’s really unbelievable," Machowsky said. "When the horses hit the quarter pole, I started walking to the bar. I knew he would fly home. I couldn’t believe the way he was finishing. I couldn’t believe how fast he went the last quarter of a mile. I was surprised.

“I didn’t understand why he was so far back," Machowsky added. "He’s a strange horse. He’s one of those horses that just gives you an eerie feeling about him when you train him and watch him run. He’s got so much natural talent that it seems like he’s sometimes playing with his opponents. Today, he showed that.

“And that’s kind of why I wanted Rafael with him. I didn’t want anybody panicking. I just told him (Bejarano), ‘Hey, he’s going to have a good turn of foot, just get tied on and he’ll fly home for you. If he’s good enough, he’ll win.’”

Victory Pete was second by a half-length over Mr Gruff and Regally Ready.

Caracortado won the Del Mar Mile Handicap (gr. IIT) in August and has now captured four of his nine lifetime starts on grass. This was his debut on Santa Anita's hillside course. Overall, Caracortado improved his record to 9-2-3 in 19 races with earnings of $864,105.

The winner carried co-top weight of 123 pounds and paid $5.80 and $3.60. Victory Pete returned $6.80. The exacta was worth $46.20. The track refunded show wagers after the scratch of Silver Summation.