Al Shaqab Racing's versatile Mshawish successfully transferred his graded stakes-winning form to the dirt Jan. 9, edging Valid by a neck in the $150,000 Hal's Hope Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park.
The 6-year-old Medaglia d'Oro runner came off a fourth in the Nov. 28 Cigar Mile (gr. I) for trainer Todd Pletcher, his first try on dirt after winning both the Ft. Lauderdale (gr. IIT) and the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (gr. IT) on the lawn last year.
A return to Dubai is in order for Mshawish, who in 2015 was third in the Dubai Turf (UAE-IT) and in 2014 won the Zabeel Mile (UAE-IIT) and finished fourth in the Dubai Turf when it was known as the Dubai Duty Free. His connections will decide whether this race sets him up for a run in the Feb. 8 Donn Handicap (gr. I) on dirt or a return to the Gulfstream Park Turf on the same day, and subsequently whether he will run on turf in Dubai or target the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I).
"This was a defining moment for him to decide what he's going to do going forward," Pletcher said. "We'll all put our heads together and see what we want to do; we'd like to go to Dubai with him, but we've got a lot of options (as to which race he'll contest)."
With meet-leading jockey Javier Castellano in the irons, Mshawish was content to settle near the back of the pack of five as Valid led the way in the mile test. Between horses after a :24.26 quarter and a half in :46.69, the bay runner moved up with a powerful rally and swung outside around the final turn as three-quarters went in 1:09.95.
"I like to ride the horse like a European turf horse and I like to cover up a little bit like I did today and find one run and make a big strong move, and it worked out great today," Castellano said. "I think in the Cigar Mile when he ran the first time on the dirt, I think I may have moved to soon and tried to ride him like a dirt horse and he hung. I paid my price and I learned something good out of my mistake. Today, I rode more patient. There was a lot of speed in the race and I tried to cover up behind the speed and make one run. It paid off today."
Valid dug in down the stretch but could not prevail when seeking his fourth straight stakes score; after seven-eighths in 1:22.06, he gave way to the closing winner. Final time on a fast track was 1:34.61.
"I thought it was a quality effort," Pletcher said. "The time was good and I'm happy to see him win a big race on the dirt because he's always trained well on it.
"We'll see how he comes out of it and assess the fields and how he's training. We'd like to get back to Dubai with him. He was a quality third in the turf race there last year. So now we have a lot of options open for him, not only here, but also in Dubai. He could go in the mile, the World Cup, or the mile-and-an-eighth turf.
"It's kind of why we want to run today—to find out if in fact he is a dirt horse and if the Donn is an option. If not, we'd just fall back on the turf. Now, we have both options."
The victory completed a sweep of the early stakes for Al Shaqab, Pletcher, and Castellano, who teamed up 2 1/2 hours earlier to win the Marshua's River (gr. IIIT) with Sandiva.
Mshawish paid $6.40, $3.40, and $2.60 while Valid brought $3.20 and $2.40 as the 9-5 favorite. Grande Shores was worth $3.60, and Matrooh and Mr. Jordan completed the order of finish. Midnight Cello scratched.
Bred in Kentucky by OTIF 2007 out of the Thunder Gulch mare Thunder Bayou, Mshawish took an interesting route to his current connections. He was a $25,000 weanling purchase by Hot Pepper Farm from the 2010 Keeneland November breeding stock sale when consigned by Dapple Bloodstock, and went for $10,000 to Brown Island Stables from the Bedouin Bloodstock consignment at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale.
Shipped to France for the 2012 Arqana Saint-Cloud breeze-up sale, he was purchased from the Brown Island consignment for $219,589 by Mandore International Agency for Al Shaqab. He raced in Europe and at Meydan and Sha Tin before joining Pletcher's program in 2014. He now has a 7-2-3 record from 22 starts for earnings of $1,920,651.