Kaleem Shah's Iliad provided his connections with a wide range of emotions in his last start.
The first wave was hopefulness, when Iliad made his move three-wide in the final turn, as grade 1 winner Gormley tired between the two horses. Late in the turn, Iliad and undefeated Mastery were nearly on even terms.
"I was combing my hair," joked assistant trainer Leandro Mora March 31, about his preparations for the expected winner's circle photo after the San Felipe. "I thought we were gone."
The next wave was a bit of deflation. Iliad loomed for a moment in the stretch, but was no match for Mastery. Although he was 1 3/4 lengths clear of the rest of the field, Iliad's stretch run was not appealing to the eye. He struggled to stay on his correct lead and swished his tail with displeasure as jockey Flavien Prat urged him with the whip in the final furlong.
"He looked tired," trainer Doug O'Neill said. "He tried hard. Flavien was asking him for more and he was like, 'Jock, I'm giving you everything. Stop hitting me.'"
"Everybody else spit the bit, he kept going a little bit, but the other one was too much for him," Mora added.
Moments after the wire came the third and final wave, when Mastery—who looked like the clear Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) favorite in his 6 3/4-length San Felipe romp—was pulled up by jockey Mike Smith after sustaining a condylar fracture. In an instant Iliad went from a fringe Kentucky Derby contender in the shadow of Mastery to the likely favorite in the April 8 Santa Anita Derby (G1).
"You hate to see a nice horse break down—or any kind of horse—but it is what it is," Mora said. "Now it's about making the best of the opportunity."
"He ran huge and it was only his second time out this year," O'Neill said of the San Felipe run, which followed Iliad's impressive score in the seven-furlong San Vicente (G2) Feb. 12. "Going a mile and a sixteenth against a proven grade 1 winner—that was a big effort."
Now O'Neill and his team are hoping to build on that first two-turn start in the Santa Anita Derby, and Iliad logged his final timed workout Friday in preparation for the 1 1/8-mile test.
Under Prat during the last workout session at Santa Anita Park, Iliad breezed in company outside of stablemate Hoffenheim. After breaking off from the pony at the wire and galloping through the clubhouse turn, the pair began their work in the backstretch, with Iliad about a length behind Hoffenheim. In the stretch, Iliad effortlessly moved past his workmate without any asking from Prat, hit the wire in 1:01 1/5 for five furlongs, worked another furlong past the wire in 1:13 4/5, and galloped out to seven furlongs in 1:26 3/5. O'Neill also worked his other three probable Santa Anita Derby starters Friday—Term of Art (five furlongs in 1:03 2/5), Milton Freewater (six furlongs in 1:15 2/5), and So Conflated (six furlongs in 1:15 1/5).
"I didn't even ask him anything, but at the quarter pole he picked up the bridle and did it by himself," Prat said of Iliad's drill. "It was good."
Whether he garners favoritism in the Santa Anita Derby remains to be seen, but the question still remains about that San Felipe stretch run. There are two lines of thinking—Iliad either tired in the stretch because he's not particularly suited for longer distances, or he simply got burned out trying to go toe-to-toe with Mastery.
"That's going to be the question mark—the distance," Prat said. "Last time was his first time (going) two turns, so you can expect an improvement from that race, but if he handles the distance, he should run really good."