Sheik Maktoum al Maktoum's Irish Prize earned his fifth graded stakes win of the year Sunday, when he narrowly held off Sligo Bay to win the San Gabriel Handicap (gr. IIT) for the second time this calendar year. The Neil Drysdale-trained son of Irish River also won the event on New Year's Day.
"That was a nice way to finish off the year," said winning rider Gary Stevens. "It was sweet to win the photo -- Neil (Drysdale) and I have lost some tight photos over the last three or four months, and it gets a little disheartening."
Irish Prize raced in 10th position early on -- ahead of only the Bobby Frankel-trained Northern Quest – as Kerrygold and Beriskaio alternately set comfortable fractions on the front end. Beiskaio began to fade after six furlongs run in 1:12.77 leaving Kerrygold to lead the field into the stretch. Sligo Bay and El Gran Papa soon collared Kerrygold as Irish Prize rallied down the center of the track. Sligo Bay kicked clear of El Gran Papa and dueled with Irish Prize in deep stretch before the winner got his head in front. Sligo Bay fought back gamely, but Irish Prize resisted his late surge to win by a head at the wire. Irish Prize completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.56 on the firm turf course.
"Our plan was to lay just off the speed because it didn't look like there was a ton of speed in there. But I got demolished at the start, so those plans went out the window," Stevens explained. "I had to improvise and he settled in real nicely for me, and he was giving me a good feel the whole way, but that wasn't where we wanted to be early on. It worked out good, though, the pace was good and honest and we had a good trip."
El Gran Papa came home 1 1/2 lengths behind Sligo Bay and a neck ahead of fourth-place No Slip. Sarafan, Northern Quest, Bonapartiste, Golden General, Kerrygold, Agol Lack, and Beriskaio completed the order of finish.
Sent off as the 2-1 favorite, 5-year-old Irish Prize paid $6, $4, and $3. Sligo Bay paid $4.40 and $3.40 and completed the $1 exacta worth $13.80. El Gran Papa returned $5.20.
Already a $1-million earner prior to the race, Irish Prize earned an additional $90,000 for his ninth career win from 24 starts. He earned his first career stakes win when he won the San Gabriel for the first time this year and has since added the Fastness Handicap (gr. IIIT), the Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile Stakes (gr. IT), and the Firecracker Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT). He finished fourth in Val Royal's Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) and fifth in the 1999 Prix Daphnis (FR-III), in which Val Royal finished second. Gainsborough Farm Inc. bred the gelding in Kentucky. (Chart, Equibase