Al Shaqab Racing's versatile Mshawish proved a force to be reckoned with Feb. 6 in the $500,000 Donn Handicap (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park, and all but punched his ticket to the March 26 Dubai World Cup (UAE-I).
Last year the 6-year-old Medaglia d'Oro runner took the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (gr. IT), but this season he transitioned his form to dirt in brilliant style for trainer Todd Pletcher, and brought home the second grade I win of his career with a two-length win over graded stakes winner Valid.
"We'll go to Dubai and make a decision (for his next race), but hopefully it will be the (March 26 Dubai) World Cup (UAE-I)," Pletcher said.
Closing from a stalking third in the 1 1/8-mile Donn, Mshawish and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez took the lead coming off the far turn and finished with authority in a final time of 1:47.89 on a fast track. Valid was second after pressing the pace set by Financial Modeling, and Mexikoma rallied for third.
"I loved the way he finished up at a mile and an eighth," Pletcher said. "That was kind of the one thing we were looking to prove, that he could stay a mile and an eighth on the dirt. I actually thought he ran the best race of his career really, and he's run some good ones before that. It was good to see him finish up like that. He got a great trip. Johnny gave him a great ride and he delivered a big performance."
Mshawish made his dirt debut at the end of last season after finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT), and wound up a solid fourth in the Cigar Mile (gr. I). When he followed that effort with a Jan. 9 Hal's Hope Stakes (gr. III) win, his connections chose the Donn over a Turf Handicap defense—a decision the bay runner rewarded with his authoritative score.
While Financial Modeling ran a quarter in :24.12 and a half in :48.13 in the Donn, Mshawish was covered up on the rail. He swung outside after three-quarters went in 1:11.88, and carried on to victory through a 1:35.60 mile.
"I always had a lot of horse, but it was a tough race," Velazquez said. "I was in a perfect position the whole way because I knew the horse laying second (Valid) eventually he had to move to get to the horse on the lead. And when he started moving, I got my position and held it there. From the quarter pole I let him go and he went on. He finished up really well. For a horse that they were concerned about going two turns and a mile and an eighth, it doesn't seem like it bothered him at all."
Mshawish went off at odds of 9-2 in the field of eight and returned $11.20, $5.80, and $3.60. Valid brought $6.40 and $4.20, and Mexikoma paid $5. Itsaknockout, Financial Modeling, 2-1 favorite Keen Ice under jockey Javier Castellano, Closing Bell, and Madefromlucky completed the order of finish.
"The speed was holding pretty good today," Castellano said. "It was hard to come from behind. But I liked the way he did it today because he came running the last part. I know an extra furlong he could get it done. He passed the wire galloping out strong and passed the other horses. I couldn't pull him up. A mile and a quarter will be good for him."
Keen Ice is expected to join Mshawish in Dubai.
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 started seven times in Europe, where he was twice a winner, including a score in the listed Prix de Torgeville at Deauville. From there he went to Dubai, where in Feburary of 2014 he took the Zabeel Mile (UAE-II) before running fourth in the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I). His record now stands at 8-2-3 from 23 starts, for earnings of $2,221,351.