Godolphin's good fortune leading up to the Breeders' Cup continued at Santa Anita Oct. 11 when 6-5 choice Gayego stormed down the center of the track to register a 1 1/4-length win in Oak Tree's $300,000 Ancient Title Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO).
Ridden with extreme confidence by Garrett Gomez, Gayego benefited from sizzling early fractions (:21.69, :44.50) to earn the first grade I victory of his career in come-from-behind fashion for trainer Saeed bin Suroor and the Godolphin team.
Gayego, who got home in 1:08.28 for the six furlongs over the Pro-Ride racing surface, is a leading contender for the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) Nov. 7 at Santa Anita. The Ancient Title is the last of Oak Tree's "Win and You're In" races leading up to the two-day festival.
Gayego had just one horse beaten at the top of the stretch, but Gomez rallied the 4-year-old son of Gilded Time six wide through the lane and he won as much the best. Crown of Thorns ran second, with Delta Storm third. Cost of Freedom, who won last year's Ancient Title, finished fourth.
Among the American-based contenders Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Godolphin could have for the Breeders' Cup this year are Vineyard Haven, Midshipman , Regal Ransom, Music Note, Cocoa Beach and Pyro.
“The race went as I expected," said bin Suroor. "Before the race I told (Gomez) to make a wide move. I told him, it depends on how fast they go, but if he could get him in a good position, it would be great for him.
"He handled the surface here very well. Now, we’ll take him to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint."
Red Arrow had the early lead after speeding between horses coming away and had a substantial advantage down the backstretch as Washington shipper Atta Boy Roy and Cost of Freedom pushed him along. Red Arrow weakened in upper strech with Cost of Freedom gaining a short edge and Fast Eddie and Crown of Thorns rallying. But Gayego, who was forced to steady early, came out leaving the turn and blew past his rivals impressively under strong handling by Gomez, overtaking Cost of Freedom and Crown of Thorns in deep stretch and edging away. Delta Storm came on late for third under Joel Rosario.
"They told me to just take my time with him and get him up under me and he’d come home no problem," Gomez said. "I just didn’t know how much of a turn of foot he’d have, but he answered that question.”
It was an encouraging effort from the Richard Mandella-trained Crown of Thorns, who had just one prior start at Del Mar since winning the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) as a 3-year-old in February 2008. Ridden by Victor Espinoza, the son of Repent split rivals in the stretch drive to lead briefly before giving way to Gayego.
“I got excited there for a moment," Espinoza said. "He ran unbelievable today for this being his second race back from such a long layoff. He saved ground, everything went well. I think he’ll improve off of this for the next one.”
Tyler Baze blamed himself for moving too early on Cost of Freedom,"but I didn’t want to get like swarmed.
"At the top of the lane, I thought I was going to win for fun. He got a little tired, that’s all. But this just proved today that he is back. He ran fourth, got beat about two lengths (2 1/2) for it all. So he’s ready for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.”
Gayego won last year's Arkansas Derby (gr. II). But after a rough time in the Triple Crown, he was purchased by Godolphin and sent to Dubai, where he returned to win a group III sprint at Nad al Sheba March 5. Three weeks later, he turned in a second-place finish in the Godolphin Mile (UAE-II). In his only start prior to the Ancient Title, the dark bay colt won an optional claiming allowance at Saratoga Aug. 17.
Hargus and Sandra Sexton bred the winner in Kentucky. He is out of Devils Lake, by Lost Code.
Gayego has won seven of 13 starts in his career with three seconds for earnings of $1,299,620.
He paid $4.40, $3.20 and $2.80. Crown of Thorns returned $6.20 and $5.40 and completed a $2 exacta of $28.20. Michael House's Delta Storm, from the Mike Mitchell barn, was $8.60 to show.