Even-money favorite Courageous Cat chalked up his first grade I stakes victory when he held off the closing Caracortado by a neck to win the $300,000 Shoemaker Mile (gr. IT) on a firm Hollywood Park turf course July 2 (VIDEO).
Jockey Patrick Valenzuela, 48, earned his 100th stakes win at Hollywood Park while riding Courageous Cat for the first time.
“It was nice way to get the 100th stakes win because Bill Shoemaker, he was my idol," Valenzuela said.
With the victory, Courageous Cat, trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott for owners/breeders Pam and Martin Wygod, earned a berth in the TVG Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs Nov. 5.
Courageous Cat, a son of Storm Cat out of the dual grade I-winning Rahy mare Tranquility Lake, completed the mile in a sizzling 1:33.19. The time was slightly off the turf course mark of 1:32.59 set by Monterey Jazz in 2009.
Caracortado, ridden by Joe Talamo, finished second. Victor's Cry, last year's Shoemaker Mile winner, rallied for third from the back of the six-horse field with Victor Espinoza aboard.
Courageous Cat, a full brother to multiple grade I winner After Market, has won both of his starts in 2011 after capturing the Poker Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park in commanding style by 2 1/4 lengths June 10. In his only prior race in Southern California, the 5-year-old finished second by a half-length to the superstar Goldikova in the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Santa Anita in November 2009.
“I’m looking for revenge (against Goldikova) in the Breeders’ Cup Mile," Wygod said. "If you notice in all his races, he goes to his left lead right after he takes the lead. When somebody runs up to him, then he’ll start to do well again. You could see he wasn’t going to give it up today. I was pretty confident.
"He’s going back East now, I had to give Bill Mott my word that I wouldn’t keep him here. Pat Valenzuela is a great professional and we’ve tried to give him every chance he deserves. Coming back at his age with his spirit and drive, it’s a good thing to see him getting the job done.’’
Liberian Freighter, as expected, set the pace in the Shoemaker Mile but Courageous Cat was never far behind while rating in second on the front-runner's outside. Fractions were :24.02, :47.31, and 1:10.11.
Courageous Cat took the advantage in upper stretch and fought off Liberian Freighter and Caracortado from between horses to lead by a half-length at the eighth pole. Caracortado kept coming in the final strides but could not get on even terms with the game Courageous Cat.
"I just wanted my horse to relax, and that’s what he did," said Valenzuela, who is the the 10th rider to win 100 stakes at Hollywood. "He relaxed perfectly behind the leader and settled nicely. I could have gotten (Liberian Freighter) any time I wanted. I waited as long as I could and he kicked on for home. When that horse (Caracortado) came to him and he fought back. That horse was never going to get by him.”
Valenzuela's last grade I win came in 2006.
With just five races over the past two years, Courageous Cat qualifies as "lightly raced." The bay won the National Racing Museum Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga as a 3-year-old prior to his big effort in the Breeders' Cup Mile. His only win in three tries last year came in Gulfstream Park's Canadian Turf (gr. IIIT) in February 2010. He ran third in last fall's Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes (gr. IT) at Keeneland as well.
Courageous Cat has a 6-2-2 record 13 lifetime starts with earnings of $961,300. The Shoemaker Mile win was worth $180,000.
Under equal weight of 124 pounds, the winner paid $4, $2.60, and $2.20 and topped an $11.20 exacta. Second choice Caracortado missed by a head in this spring's Frank Kilroe Mile (gr. IT) at Santa Anita and came up just shy again, returning $3.20 and $2.40. Victor's Cry was $2.60 to show.
"I really thought I had the winner at the top of the stretch because I had a lot of horse turning for home," said Talamo of Caracortado. "The other one just had a little bit more.”
Ashtar was scratched.