Matto Mondo grabbed the lead from the favored pacesetter Monterey Jazz at the head of the stretch and rolled on to register a 3 1/4-length win in the off-the-turf Thunder Road Handicap (VIDEO) at Santa Anita Feb. 7.
A grade III race on the turf, the one-mile race is currently considered a non-graded event pending a final decision by the American Graded Stakes Committee.
The Chilean-bred son of Sir Cat scored his first stakes win in his fifth United States start for trainer Richard Mandella and Alex Estay's Yatse Stables I. Matto Mondo was a champion and a two-time group I winner in his native country. This was the 5-year-old's first race on a synthetic racing surface, and he completed the mile in an excellent time of 1:34.61 on the Pro-Ride surface.
“We got away slow and with Monterey Jazz out there, we had a target and it worked," said winning rider Mike Smith, who was forced to go to the left-handed stick as Matto Mondo drifted in some after opening a sizable lead in deep stretch. "The way we broke played in my favor today because this horse used to be rank. But the way he ran today, I think he would’ve rated for me even if he’d have broke with the field.”
Sixth after being squeezed at the break, Matto Mondo was four wide on the clubhouse turn as Monterey Jazz and David Flores showed the way while posting fractions of :23.32, :45.61, and 1:09.59. Monterey Jazz led by 3 1/2 lengths after a half-mile, but Matto Mondo kept stalking and eventually caught the front-runner rounding the far turn.
Matto Mondo inched away in the homestretch and held a 1 1/2-length lead over Global Hunter and Jose Valdivia Jr., who rallied from between horses. But Matto Mondo had more to give and he continued to draw away from Global Hunter in the final furlong.
Argentina-bred Global Hunter finished second by one length over Monba, who made a mild bid for John Velazquez in his first start since last year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Monterey Jazz, the 2-1 choice, faded to sixth.
Matto Mondo was coming off a front-running tally over an optional claiming allowance field going one mile on Santa Anita's turf course Dec. 27, which was his first U.S. victory. The dark bay or brown horse has won six of 11 starts with lifetime earnings of $178,816. The Thunder Road victory was worth $60,000.
Mandella, addressing Matto Mondo's slow development in America, joked, “A lot of people thought it was bad training, but it was a language problem. He just didn’t speak English when he got here. It took him a while to get the language down.
"The way he ran on the lead the other day (Dec. 27), we were hoping he'd (Monterey Jazz) leave us alone, but I told Mike to ride him like he owned him. He does a good job.”
Mandella said he would consider all options for Matto Mondo's next race, including the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I)March 7.
"We wondered about this (running on a synthetic track)," he said. "It's nice when the answer is good."
Haras El Sheik bred Matto Mondo, who is out of Muy Euforica, by Sadlers Congress.
Sent off as the co-fifth choice, Matto Mondo paid $14.20, $6.80, and $5. Global Hunter returned $6.40 and $4.20. Monba paid $6 to show.
Dilemma, Ferneley, Monterey Jazz, Shore Do, and Becrux completed the order. Mr Napper Tandy and Yankee Bravo scratched.