Heavily backed Champs Elysees took the overland route for Garrett Gomez on the turn for home but won the $150,000 San Marcos Stakes (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) with plenty left Jan. 19 on the Santa Anita turf.
The Juddmonte Farms homebred, by Danehill out of the super producer Hasili, earned his first U.S. victory for trainer Bobby Frankel.
Stalking a glacier's pace from the rear of the scratched-down field of six, Garrett Gomez angled the 5-year-old horse five paths wide around the final turn to engage the leaders on the extreme outside. The field was spread five across the track in upper stretch, but none had the closing power to stay with Champs Elysees, whose long stride inhaled the leaders inside the final furlong. Although he lugged in a bit after getting the lead, Champs Elysees won under good handling by 1 1/4 lengths in a time of 2:00.88 on firm going.
"We've been lucky with them," Frankel said of the offspring of Hasili, whose previous five foals have produced four grade or group I winners, all millionaires, and a group II victor. "That's the goal with this one (winning a group I), so we'll hopefully have the first mare with five grade I winners."
Until his San Marcos win, Champs Elysees had been the under-achiever of the group with only a group III win at Longchamp last spring for trainer Andre Fabre. After a second-place finish to Schiaperelli in his last European start, the Gran Premio del Jockey Club (Ity-I) at San Siro Oct. 14, the bay was transferred to Frankel's barn. In his only prior U.S. start, Champs Elysees finished second to Sunriver in the Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IT) Dec. 8.
Ramazutti, breaking from the rail, went to the front soon after the break and settled into a canter through the stretch run the first time. With no pressure on, the Todd Pletcher trainee clipped off easy fractions of :24, :49 3/5 and 1:13 3/5 while leading a bunched field. After reaching the quarter pole in 1:37 1/5, the race changed complexion.
Champs Elysees, racing at the back of the pack on the outside with the Irish-bred Decado, swung extremely wide for the stretch run and would not be denied. He surged past Niagara Causeway, who had gained a brief advantage over Rocket Legs at the top of the lane, leaving the eighth pole, and held sway over Rocket Legs and Obrigado after getting a good left-handed crack of the whip from Gomez.
"I thought he ran well," Frankel said. "The pace was slow and he had to go five or six wide, but he finished good."
Rocket Legs, ridden by Mike Smith and making his stakes debut for Pletcher, edged Obrigado, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, for second by a head.
“They fanned me out pretty wide as we were turning for home," Gomez said of his trip. "I had to make sure I gave Rafael some room before my horse switched leads. When he got to his right lead, he just went right on with it. He’s a true professional.”
Facing some of the best company in Europe, Champs Elysees improved his lifetime mark to 3-5-3 in 13 starts with U.S. earnings of $400,647. Champs Elysees had just two prior starts at the 10-furlong distance, with his best finish a second in a group III at Longchamp when he was 3.
Asked if he had anything mapped out for the horse’s next race, Frankel said, “Not really. He can go a mile and three-quarters. This is a little short for him.”
Carrying just 115 pounds, Champs Elysees went off at odds of 2-5 and paid $2.80, $2.20, and $2.10. Rocket Legs, a winner of three of his previous four starts since breaking his maiden at Kentucky Downs Sept. 22, returned $4.20 and $2.40. The grade II winner Obrigado, trained by Neil Drysdale, was $2.40 to show.
Niagara Causeway, Decado, and Ramazutti completed the order. Medici Code, the 122-pound highweight, and Masterly scratched.