It was exactly a year ago in the Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IT) that the regally bred Champs Elysees ran for the first time in the United States, finishing second as the favorite to Sunriver. Given a second chance Dec. 6, Champs Elysees sliced the final corner and flew past pacesetter Mr. Chairman in the homestretch to win the $250,000 event (VIDEO), earning his first grade I win in the U.S. for Juddmonte Farms and trainer Bobby Frankel.
Ridden for the first time by Jose Valdivia Jr., Champs Elysees had to hold off the rallying Obrigado for victory by a half-length. Church Service finished third, with the 5-year-old mare Black Mamba fourth. The final time was 2:27.71 for the 1 1/2-mile journey on Hollywood Park's firm turf.
The 5-year-old Champs Elysees is a British-bred son of Danehill out of Hasili, by Kahyasi -- the same dam as Breeders' Cup winners Banks Hill and Intercontinental. The chestnut horse won the Northern Dancer (gr. IT) at Woodbine Sept. 7 and came into the Turf Cup off an eighth-pace finish in the Breeders' Cup Clasic (gr. IT).
Valdivia inherited the ride from Julien Leparoux, who was originally given the call by Frankel but was unable to honor it.
"I got the call yesterday morning from my agent that I was going to ride this horse," Valdivia explained. "How many times do you get to pick up a horse that's 9-5 in a grade 1?"
Champs Elysees enjoyed a ground-saving trip, kicking it up a notch leaving the quarter-pole and sweeping past Mr. Chairman with a rush to get the lead mid-stretch. The winner appeared to lose a little focus after that as Obrigado rallied up on his outside, but he dug in late and won gamely under only moderate urging from Valdivia. It was Champs Elysees' fifth lifetime win in 21 starts and increased his career earnings to $1,354,761.
"He waits on horses but when that horse got to him he went on again. I was afraid he made the lead too soon," said Frankel, who won his record fourth Turf Cup. He said Champs Elysees was sick this summer, contributing to a pair of sub-par efforts, "but he was really going into this race really well.
"I told Jose to try and make him break good, but don’t worry about rushing him or anything. I think he will stay in training next year but I’m not sure.”
Obrigado, at 22-1, settled into a stalking position for jockey Joel Rosario, also angling outward in the stretch and finishing well to nearly catch the favorite. The multiple grade II winner wound up three-quarters of a length in front of Church Service, who rallied from next-to-last in the final quarter-mile to rally for third by three parts of a length over Black Mamba, who was out-kicked to the wire.
Mr. Chairman, who took control of the pace from the start, carved sensible fractions of :25.05, :49.96, 1:15.72 and 1:40.72 for the distance, but weakened late to finish fifth. Second choice Winchester, the lone 3-year-old in the race, pulled early in an attempt to go with Mr. Chairman and also weakened in the lane, finishing sixth. High Heel Sneakers and Rush Rush trailed.
"He broke very good and put me in a comfortable spot," Valdivia said. "The pace was very slow but he was fairly close and I didn't give him too much ground to make up. It was just a matter of biding my time and waiting for a hole to open. I had a lot of confidence with this horse. Even though this was my first time riding him I worked him many times in the morning and watched him win a couple of times. So I know the class that he has. I got to save ground all the way around. I felt like Street Sense in the Kentucky Derby."
Rosario was pleased by the effort from Obrigado, who was making his second start after being out of action for nearly eight months.
"My horse ran great," he said. "The other one was just a little bit better. I had a great trip, got out when I wanted but just ran out of ground."
Champs Elysees, who has won two of 10 starts in North America, paid $5.60, $3.20 and $2.60. Obrigado who has now lost 10 races in a row for trainer Neil Drysdale since winning the San Luis Obispo Handicap (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita in February 2007, returned $14.40 and $7. The $2 exacta was worth a healthy $69.60. Church Service, a grade III winner for Mike Mitchell since the conditioner claimed him for $50,000 in January, was $3.40 to show.
The longshot Summer Survivor scratched.