Richard Mandella knew Bal a Bali had more to give.
But even the Hall of Fame trainer's sharpest instincts could not have predicted a career-best stateside season for the 7-year-old son of Put It Back, who secured not one, but two grade 1 victories in 2017.
Rounding the turn for home in the $400,000 Shoemaker Mile Stakes (G1T) June 3 at Santa Anita Park, Bal a Bali again validated Calumet Farm's decision to keep the striking bay off their stallion roster for another season. Jockey Mike Smith was along for the ride, as Bal a Bali closed strongly to win by three-quarters of a length in a final time of 1:32.22 over Farhaan. Favored Heart to Heart faded to third after setting the pace.
"Very exciting. He's always been a great horse," Mandella said. "He's had some problems in his life and overcame them. He's very fortunate to have had two sets of owners that are the best in the business and were willing to let me do what's right for him, and the fruits of that are what we saw today."
Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farm saw Bal a Bali through a battle with laminitis before he was sold to Calumet, which kept him in training this year on Mandella's recommendation. He won the Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes (G1T) in his 2017 debut in March, and rebounded from a fifth in the May 6 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (G1T) to pick up his second North American grade 1 Saturday.
"It's very gratifying, but you expect him to win every time because he's a great horse," Mandella said. "He's had a few things that didn't materialize, but with the setbacks he's had ... the industry needs to give him the credit due that he overcame it and came back to be such a good horse.
"The original owners, Mr. Rick Porter and Mr. (Anthony) Manganaro, only wanted to do the best for him. Then, when Calumet picked up the breeding rights and decided to race him, they've only given me the encouragement to do the same thing. If all horses in the world had those kinds of owners, they'd be better off."
While Heart to Heart set out in pursuit of the grade 1 victory that has eluded him, Bal a Bali settled fifth in the field of seven older horses. He rated off fractions of :22.67, :45.07, and 1:08.21, then angled out four wide and was set down for the drive. Heart to Heart appeared ready to edge away, but was caught by the late run of the eventual winner and then missed the place by a nose.
"It went according to paper," Smith said. "The horses that I thought would be in front of me were. Although I did think I would get an inside trip, but was given an outside trip. I thought it was a good spot to be and it was a for-sure thing.
"Mr. Mandella had this horse double-ready today. He's been training this way and he ran that way today. I'm glad I finally got to ride him. I've worked him for everybody else, so it's nice to finally get him to myself."
Bal a Bali returned $8.20, $4.20, and $3 at odds of 3-1, while Farhaan paid $3.80 and $2.80, and Heart to Heart brought $3. The order of finish was completed by Free Rose, Gangster, Bolo, and What a View.
With a 15-1-4 record from 25 starts, Bal a Bali was bred in Brazil by Haras Santa Maria de Araras out of the Clackson mare In My Side. His North American grade 1 wins go along with four group 1 races won in Brazil, and his earnings currently total $1,257,923.
Bal a Bali also secured a Breeders' Cup Mile (G1T) berth with his Shoemaker Mile victory through the Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" program, and Mandella said the Nov. 4 race at Del Mar will be his long-term goal. It will be the first Breeders' Cup bid for the dual grade 1 winner, who also qualified for a Breeders' Cup Turf (G1T) bid by winning the 2014 Gran Premio Brasil (G1) at Hipódromo da Gávea in Rio de Janeiro, but contracted laminitis after shipping to the United States and did not return to the races until May of 2015.
"The mile kind of seems like his race, and I'm going to stick to it," Mandella said.