European connections got an early start on the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) this year when British import Gitano Hernando, ridden by Kieren Fallon, upset favored Colonel John by a neck in Oak Tree's $350,000 Goodwood Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Oct. 10.
Second choice Mine That Bird, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner, trailed his nine rivals for much of the trip before launching a late bid and finishing sixth.
A huge group from Team Valor International crowded the winner's circle after Gitano Hernando, who took the lead from Parading while rallying between horses, outfought Colonel John, on the winner's outside, to produce an 18-1 surprise. Gitano Hernando earned a spot in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic Nov. 7 with the victory. Gitano Hernando, who is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup, would require a $250,000 fee to start in the Classic.
Marco Botti trains the 3-year-old son of Hernando who was coming off a two-length win in a conditioned stakes over Polytrack at Wolverhampton in England Sept. 17.
“We are absolutely delighted with the horse," said Botti, a 32-year-old conditioner who was born in Italy but trains at Newmarket. "He’s just improving all the time. He’s a nice horse. He’s lightly raced and it’s amazing, going from a condition race to (a grade I win).”
Asked if Gitano Hernando would remain at trainer Paddy Gallagher’s barn at Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup: “He will stay here. The horse is not going back to England. Whether we go the Breeders’’ Cup, we don’t know yet.”
Gitano Hernando chased between horses in fifth before angling out in the stretch to gain the lead between the stalker Parading and Colonel John, who closed willingly from the outside to challenge. Gitano Hernando struck the front past the eighth pole and held on over a determined Colonel John, who was second best.
Colonel John, rebounding from a fifth-place finish in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) last time out, ran a game second, with the late-closing Richard's Kid rallying for third, three-quarters of a length behind the runner-up. Parading finished fourth after he took the lead from Tres Borrachos, who carved quarter-mile fractions of :23.75, :48.54 and 1:12.64 before tiring.
Gitano Hernando's winning time for the 1 1/8-mile Pro-Ride test was 1:48.39. Never worse than second in six starts, including four wins, the chestnut colt earned $165,000 for the victory ($45,000 from the Breeders' Cup Fund reverted) and boosted his bankroll to $219,669. Barry Irwin of Team Valor and Gary Barber own him.
“He broke the track record in his last start on Polytrack (at Wolverton) and he’s been training great," said Fallon, a five-time British riding champion. "I know this horse wants to go further, so I wanted to be closer today and for him to be handy. He’s a tough horse and he needed to be today.
"My horse just wanted it more than the other horse. He’s tough as nails and he really wanted to win. I honestly didn’t think he could beat the likes of Colonel John, but he’s just a very tough horse.”
“He ran good, he traveled good," Gomez said of Colonel John. "But when they started sprinting, I just got out-sprinted for about 50 yards. I was traveling good, but there was just that one spurt from the winner when he got through there. He quickened faster than my horse could quicken, and that’s where he got me."
Calvin Borel, aboard the Derby champ Mine That Bird, said his charge was struggling.
"Maybe a little bit firmer ground where I can just let him break and pick him up easy ... will be better for him," Borel said. "I don’t know if that will work. But I do know one thing. He’s a lot better horse on the dirt."
Trainer Chip Woolley said the nine furlongs may have been a little short for Mine That Bird.
"He finally kicked in and was really closing but it was a little later than we expected," he said. "Calvin rode the horse just like I wanted, I couldn’t ask for much more. To be honest I’m kind of disappointed. The horse shows up every time and runs the best he can run. The 10 weeks (layoff) probably wasn’t doing us any favors, it’s a long time off. We’ll see how things go. We’ve got four weeks until the Breeders’ Cup."
Gitano Hernando paid $38, $14.40 and $9.40. Colonel John returned $4.40 and $3.20 and the exacta was worth $199.80. Richard's Kid, upset winner of the Pacific Classic (gr.I) in his last start for trainer Bob Baffert, was $4.40 to show.