Fast-closing Mister Marti Gras collared Alma d'Oro in deep stretch for a half-length victory in the $109,700 Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III) as the Breeders' Cup World Championships got underway at Churchill Downs Nov. 4 (VIDEO).
Lothenbach Stables' homebred Mister Marti Gras, a slight 5-2 second choice to Southern California invader Gladding, completed the 1 1/16-mile Ack Ack in 1:45.68 on a sealed, muddy track after overnight rains in Louisville. Alma d'Oro finished second by one length, with Glenwood Canyon third.
The weather looked promising at Churchill as the Breeders' Cup prepared to start about an hour after the running of the Ack Ack.
Gladding set a deliberate pace (:25.53, :51.03, 1:15.25) before fading to fourth in the field of seven older horses.
Julien Leparoux guided Mister Marti Gras to victory for trainer Chris Block. The 4-year-old son of Belong to Me won for the fourth time in eight starts in 2011.
He was cutting back in distance from the 1 1/4-mile Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) Oct. 8 after rallying to finish a close fourth. The chestnut gelding, out of the Cure the Blues mare Miss Marta, won the Washington Park Handicap (gr. III) on Polytrack at Arlington Park in September.
"I was a little concerned about the track because he’s never run over a (muddy) surface like this, but he’s handled every track he’s been on," Block said. "I was also worried about the slow fractions and didn’t know if he’d be able to close into that. With the way the race set up it was a big effort."
Block said he would consider Mister Marti Gras for the Clark Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs Nov. 25.
Leparoux settled Mister Marti Gras off the pace in sixth while saving some ground as Gladding led Nacho Friend and Glenwood Canyon into the home stretch. Glenwood Canyon, ridden by Robby Albarado, closed three-wide to narrowly overtake Gladding briefly past mid-stretch before Alma d'Oro and John Velazquez edged past on the outside.
Alma d'Oro opened up a slight lead in the final sixteenth but could not hold off Mister Marti Gras, who had swung six-wide in upper stretch for room and charged home.
"It took him awhile to go by the horses, but once he got going I was pretty confident he was going to go by,” Leparoux said.
Mister Marti Gras, who scored his first graded win in the Washington Park, improved his career record to 6-5-1 in 19 starts with earnings of $508,651. The winning purse was worth $66,655.
The winner carried 116 pounds and paid $7.80, $4, and $2.80. Alma d'Oro, from the Todd Pletcher barn, returned $6.60 and $4 while capping $45.40 exacta. Glenwood Canyon, coming off a stakes win at Hoosier Park in his most recent start for trainer Al Stall Jr., paid $2.60 to show. Stall won last year's Ack Ack with Apart.