Tiago loves Santa Anita, no matter the surface. In his first start at the Arcadia, Calif., track since winning the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) on the old dirt track April 7, the 3-year-old colt delivered a desperate nose victory over the unlucky Awesome Gem in the $520,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup (gr. I) (VIDEO) on the new Cushion Track Sept. 29.
With Mike Smith aboard, the new millionaire Tiago emerged from between horses with the lead mid-stretch but was quickly engaged on the outside by Awesome Gem. In a terrific finish, Tiago kept his head barely in front until the final strides. Awesome Gem, under frantic right-handed urging by David Flores, appeared to just get his nose in front in the final jump, but the bigger Tiago prevailed in the head bob at the wire.
“You ain't seen him get good yet," an enthusiastic Smith said afterward. "Wait ‘till he gets good! He had to win ‘dirty’ today. We had to push our way out going to the three-eighth’s pole. He just had to make his own room, because I didn’t want Awesome Gem to get the jump on us. It slowed him down, but I just felt that we had to move at that time. Wow, he ran great.”
This was a race Tiago really needed. The John Shirreffs trainee hadn't been out in 2 1/2 months since winning the Swaps Breeders' Cup (g. II) on the Hollywood Park Cushion Track. Shirreffs has trepidation about synthetic surfaces -- he scratched Tiago from the Pacific Classic (gr. I) six weeks ago due to concerns about the Del Mar Polytrack -- but the son of Pleasant Tap had been working brilliantly at Hollywood for the Goodwood.
“He’s got a lot of heart," Shirreffs said. "He’s a Thoroughbred and he’ll give it everything he’s got, and he did.”
Tiago, a half-brother to 2005 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Giacomo, earned a spot in the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) with the victory, his fourth win in eight lifetime starts. He earned $300,000 for owners/breeders Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss to boost his overall earnings to $1,115,270. Shirreffs said he hopes Tiago will be at Monmouth Park for the Classic. The Goodwood was just Tiago's second start since finishing third in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) June 9.
As the only 3-year-old in the field, he received his three-pound break from his rivals, carrying 121.
It was also "Mike Smith Day" at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting Sept. 30. The veteran Hall of Fame jockey earned consecutive grade I nose victories aboard Tiago and with the Bob Baffert trainee Cry and Catch Me in the Oak Leaf (gr. I) for 2-year-old fillies two races earlier.
The winning time in the 1 1/8-mile Goodwood was a solid 1:46 4/5. The new Santa Anita surface continues to produce times that are comparable to the old dirt track.
A field of eight lined up for the Goodwood after the scratches of morning line choice Lava Man and Porfido. Illinois invader Lewis Michael, the surprise favorite, broke best but soon took back behind Wanna Runner, who opened up by more than five lengths after clicking off a :22 3/5 opening quarter. A.P. Xcellent and Lewis Michael tracked after a :46 1/5 half and closed in on the runaway front-runner approaching the final turn. Lewis Michael took over on the turn and led A.P. Xcellent to the top of the lane after six furlongs in 1:10, when the entire complexion of the race changed. The leaders dropped back in upper stretch with Tiago eventually gaining the advantage while three wide.
Pity Awesome Gem, who has suffered through three successive second-place finishes in graded stakes for trainer Craig Dollase, including the San Diego Handicap (gr. II) and the Pacific Classic, when he was a half-length behind Student Council. Flores has been aboard for all three runner-up finishes.
"I had my eye on Tiago when he broke, and I just wanted to stay with him," Flores said. "I didn’t want him to go too easy in front of me. I just wanted to stay in his lap and then attack him when it was time. So when I attacked him at the three-eighths pole, he pushed me out because he’s such a big horse. I tried to keep him in, but he just pushed me out like nothing. My horse is certainly not as big, but he was aggressive. He was fighting. He fought back.
"It was a great race. We just had bad luck in the last jump. I suppose we might have won had we not gotten pushed out, but that was just part of a very good race between two very good horses.”
Big Booster got up for third, one length behind Awesome Gem, with Lewis Michael hanging around for fourth. Then came A.P. Xcellent, Hello Sunday, Arson Squad and Wanna Runner.
Sent off as the narrow second choice, the winner paid $6.60, $3.40 and $2.80. The synthetic specialist Awesome Gem returned $4.40 and $2.60. Big Booster, who was third in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) as well, was $6 to show.