by Jon White
October 10, 2019
The distance from the last turn to the finish on the main track at Santa Anita measures 990 feet. It’s the standard length of the stretch run in terms of a typical one-mile oval.
It turned out that Omaha Beach and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith needed every bit of that 990 feet of Santa Anita real estate to win last Saturday’s Grade I Santa Anita Sprint Championship. The colt was making his first start in just a bit less than six months.
Prior to competing at six furlongs last Saturday, Omaha Beach had not raced since winning Oaklawn Park’s Grade I Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 13. But after the Arkansas Derby, his 2019 campaign would hit snag after snag after snag, much to the frustration of trainer Richard Mandella and owner Rick Porter (Fox Hill Farms).
Snag No. 1: Omaha Beach was withdrawn from the Grade I Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 4 because of an entrapped epiglottis. Mike Battaglia had pegged the Kentucky-bred son of War Front as the 4-1 morning-line favorite. The throat problem required surgery.
I was crushed when Omaha Beach was not able to start in the Run for the Roses. Before it was announced that Omaha Beach would have to miss that race, this was what I wrote for my weekly Xpressbet.com column/article/blog:
“I’m not going to beat around the bush. I like Omaha Beach to win this Saturday’s 145th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby. In fact, I like him a lot. As I see it, he is the total package. He has the speed, class, tractability, gameness, breeding, Hall of Fame jockey (Mike Smith), Hall of Fame trainer (Richard Mandella) and wet-track prowess (if needed) to get the job done.”
Would Omaha Beach have won the Kentucky Derby? We will never know. But it’s not as if Maximum Security set the bar high. Maximum Security finished first, then was disqualified and placed 17th for causing interference. Maximum Security posted a 101 Beyer Speed Figure in the Kentucky Derby. Omaha Beach likewise recorded a 101 Beyer when he won the Arkansas Derby. Those Beyers suggest that Omaha Beach might have won the roses if he’d had the chance.
Snag No. 2: When the post-surgery swelling in his throat lingered longer than hoped for, Omaha Beach’s return to training was delayed. This effectively took Saratoga’s Grade I Travers Stakes on Aug. 24 off the table.
After Omaha Beach finally resumed training, he had his first recorded workout at Del Mar on July 23. He worked three furlongs that morning in a bullet :36.60. Mandella explored several options for a possible comeback race for Omaha Beach before circling Del Mar’s Shared Belief Stakes at one mile on Aug. 25.
Snag No. 3: Omaha Beach was one of a number of horses at Mandella’s Del Mar barn in August that had their training and plans disrupted by a virus. It was not a major setback for Omaha Beach, but he was forced to miss the Shared Belief. Mandella then decided to target Churchill’s Grade III Ack Ack Stakes at one mile on Sept. 28 for Omaha Beach’s return.
When Omaha Beach worked seven furlongs in a splendid 1:25.00 at Santa Anita on Sept. 13, it was all systems go for the Ack Ack. Indeed, arrangements were made for him to be flown to Kentucky from California on Sept. 24, four days before that race.
Snag No. 4: On Sept. 20, Omaha Beach was scheduled to work seven furlongs again at Santa Anita. However, when this workout “got messed up,” as Mandella puts it, the colt’s trip to Kentucky was called off.
On the radio program Thoroughbred Los Angeles, Mandella explained to Mike Willman and Kurt Hoover on Sept. 22 what had happened concerning that Sept. 20 workout.
“Well, it just got messed up about as bad you could do,” Mandella said. “He had warmed up his normal warm up and broke off with his workmate at the six-furlong pole. And about an eighth of a mile into it, a rider fell off ahead of him on the racetrack.”
Omaha Beach and his workmate had to be pulled up. They had to wait for the loose horse to get caught and for the rider to get up and walk away.
According to Mandella, Omaha Beach and the workmate then had to gallop all the way back around the track to again commence the workout. But by then Omaha Beach “was pretty upset and just too strained,” Mandella said. “It was just something he had never done before. He worked a good six furlongs, but a no-good seven.”
Omaha Beach’s time for seven furlongs was 1:27.20, considerably slower than his 1:25.00 drill a week earlier.
“With that, I just didn’t think it was good enough for me to be taking him out of town to run a mile with a long layoff,” Mandella added during his Sept. 22 radio appearance. “So, I decided to just scrap that idea. The Sprint Championship is shorter than I would like to run him. But when I went back to a sprint last February and got his maiden broke, he went seven-eighths pretty well. I think he will run really well [in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship]. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win. But it’s at least a place where I can get him started back.”
On Sept. 27, Omaha Beach had an awesome four-furlong workout in :46.60. What he did that morning to step four furlongs in :46 and change and do it as easily as he did was a huge clue that he might run a big race in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship despite the long layoff. Of the hundreds of workout videos that I’ve watched on XBTV this year, I have not seen any works better than that one by Omaha Beach.
But even though it looked like Omaha Beach was primed to run a biggie last Saturday, it still was going to be a tough task for him to beat fellow 3-year-old Shancelot, a quality sprinter from the East Coast trained by Jorge Navarro.
Navarro has gone on the record as saying Shancelot is the best horse he has ever trained. Navarro made that known even before the Kentucky-bred son of Shanghai Bobby made his third lifetime start in Saratoga’s Grade II Amsterdam Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs on Aug. 24.
And what did Shancelot do in the Amsterdam? In a scintillating display of sheer speed, he won by 12 1/2 lengths as the 6-5 favorite in a field of 12.
“As Shancelot streaked home, it was sort of like watching a high-speed racecar leaving a bunch of jalopies far, far behind,” I wrote.
Shancelot set sizzling fractions of :21.79, :43.94 and 1:07.63. The six-furlong clocking of 1:07.63 was faster than 6-year-old Imperial Hint’s final time of 1:07.92 a day earlier when he won Saratoga’s Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at six furlongs.
Imperial Hint broke Saratoga’s track record for six furlongs in the Vanderbilt. Shancelot’s final time of 1:14.01 in the Amsterdam was outstanding, but he did not break the 6 1/2-furlong track record. Saratoga’s track mark of 1:13.74 for 6 1/2 furlongs was established by Quality Road in the 2009 Amsterdam when he was credited with a 109 Beyer Speed Figure.
Shancelot was credited with a gigantic 121 Beyer Speed Figure for his Amsterdam victory.
Dick Jerardi, in a story he wrote for the Daily Racing Form, shed some additional light on the historical significance’s of Shancelot’s 121 Beyer Speed Figure.
“The 121 was the best by any 3-year-old sprinter in the 27-year history of the Beyer Speed Figures being published in Daily Racing Form,” Jerardi wrote. “It was the third-fastest by any 3-year-old doing anything in that period. Only Holy Bull’s 122 in the 1994 Met Mile and Arrogate’s 122 in the 2016 Travers have been better.
According to Jerardi, just three 3-year-olds “have hit the magic 120 mark” in a race shorter than one mile since 1993 -- Kelly Kip in 1997, Xtra Heat in 2001 and Cajun Beat in 2003.
Shancelot’s “121 was the best Beyer sprinting by horses of any age since Midnight Lute got a 124 in 2007,” Jerardi wrote. “And, to think Shancelot got his 121 in just his third career start.”
These are the Beyer Speed Figures of 120 or higher by a 3-year-old since 1993:
Beyer Horse (Year Race, Distance, Track)
122 Holy Bull (1994 Met Mile, 1 mile, Belmont Park)
122 Arrogate (2016 Travers, 1 1/4 miles, Saratoga)
121 Rock and Roll (1998 allowance, 1 1/16 miles, Belmont Park)
121 Concerned Minister (2000 Tenacious. 1 1/16 miles, Fair Grounds)
121 Shancelot (2019 Amsterdam, 6 1/2 furlongs, Saratoga)
120 Kelly Kip (1997 allowance, 6 1/2 furlongs, Saratoga)
120 Xtra Heat (2001 Sweet n Sassy, 6 furlongs, Delaware Park)
120 Medaglia d’Oro (2002 Jim Dandy, 1 1/8 miles, Saratoga)
120 Cajun Beat (2003 BC Sprint, 6 furlongs, Santa Anita)
120 Bellamy Road (2005 Wood Memorial, 1 1/8 miles, Aqueduct)
120 American Pharoah (2015 BC Classic, 1 1/4 miles, Keeneland)
120 Arrogate (2016 BC Classic, 1 1/4 miles, Santa Anita)
Following the Amsterdam, Shancelot was sent away as a 3-10 favorite in Saratoga’s H. Allen Jerkens Stakes at seven furlongs on Aug. 24. When he sported a 2 1/2-length lead with a furlong to go in that Grade I affair, it appeared he was on his way to another victory. But Mind Control came on and won by a nose. Hog Creek Hustle rallied from far back to nose out Shancelot for second.
After Shancelot’s narrow defeat when third in the Jerkens, Navarro elected to send him to California for the Santa Anita Sprint Championship. A primary reason for doing that was for the sophomore speedster to get a race over the track before the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint at six furlongs on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
A MONEY-BURNING MAIDEN EARLY ON
After Omaha Beach’s first four races, it looked like he was not particularly keen on winning. He lost all four times as the betting favorite. All four races were at either one mile or 1 1/16 miles, three on turf and one on dirt.
Since losing his first four races, however, Omaha Beach now has won four in a row.
When Omaha Beach made the first start of his career, he ran third as a 2-year-old in early September at the 2018 Del Mar summer meet. He finished second in his next three starts.
As noted earlier, Mandella told Willman that Omaha Beach ran “pretty well” when the trainer shortened Omaha Beach to seven furlongs at Santa Anita last Feb. 2. But, in reality, to say that Omaha Beach ran “pretty well” is a huge understatement. Omaha Beach was nothing less than dazzling the day he left the maiden ranks.
Competing on a sloppy track, Omaha Beach bounded away from his rivals on the far turn and had built up a commanding 10-length lead at the eighth pole. He went on to win by nine. I was so impressed that I immediately put him on my Kentucky Derby Top 10.
At that time, a very good friend of mine thought that I was off my rocker to put Omaha Beach on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 off a just a maiden win in his fifth career start. But my friend did not say a word to me about this at the time. Later on, after Omaha Beach had become a graded stakes winner and was ranked high on just about everybody’s Kentucky Derby list, my friend confessed that he had thought I was cuckoo when I put Omaha Beach on my Top 10 immediately after his maiden win.
Following Omaha Beach’s maiden triumph, I wrote this in my Xpressbet.com column/article/blog: “New on my Top 10 this week is Omaha Beach, who found a cure for second-itis in a big way at Santa Anita last Saturday. The War Front colt, trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, registered a resounding nine-length win in a seven-furlong maiden special weight race contested on a sloppy track. Omaha Beach’s final time was an excellent 1:21.02 after he carved out fractions of :21.75, :43.74 and 1:08.24. He posted a 90 Beyer to equal the figure earned by Mucho Gusto later in the card when he won the [Grade III Robert B.] Lewis.”
After his maiden victory, Omaha Beach took a quantum jump in class to run in the second division of Oaklawn’s Grade II Rebel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.
In stark contrast to the Omaha Beach who lost his first four career starts, he could not have been any gamer to win his division of the Rebel at 4-1 when nosing out a champion. Finishing second was the 1-2 favorite, Game Winner, who had been voted a 2018 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.
Omaha Beach also did not back down from a fight in the subsequent Grade I Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 13. He won by one length as the 8-5 favorite when holding off 9-5 Improbable throughout the entire final three furlongs of that race.
Thus, in back-to-back races at Oaklawn, Omaha Beach defeated a pair of talented 3-year-olds from the powerful Bob Baffert barn in Game Winner and Improbable.
MUCH FOR OMAHA BEACH TO OVERCOME IN COMEBACK
A lot certainly was being asked of Omaha Beach in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship. In addition to coming off a long layoff, it would be the shortest race of his career to date. And he not only was facing a formidable foe in fellow 3-year-old Shancelot, it would be Omaha Beach’s first start against older horses.
As expected, Shancelot set the pace. The fractions of :21.87, :44.38 and :56.18 were especially fast on a Santa Anita strip that is playing much slower these days. After Omaha Beach bobbled slightly at the start, he stalked in third early, like a cat waiting to pounce on a mouse. It was to Omaha Beach’s credit that he has the necessary zip to lurk so close to such a rapid early tempo.
Shancelot led by 1 1/2 lengths at the quarter pole. Turning into the stretch, it was clear that there still was much gas left in his tank. But it also was evident that Omaha Beach, at odds of 5-2, was poised to give 3-10 favorite Shancelot a serious run for his money.
“Down at the rail, Omaha Beach is very close. Omaha Beach is firing a big shot in his comeback!” track announcer Frank Mirahmadi said during his call of the race as Omaha Beach set his sights on Shancelot at the top of the lane.
At the head of the stretch, Smith had a decision to make. He could angle out a bit to go on the attack in the lane while racing to the outside of Shancelot, or Smith could choose the inside path during the stretch run. The inside path had been left open by Shancelot’s rider, Emisael Jaramillo. Smith opted for the inside path.
With a furlong left to run, Shancelot still had a 1 1/2-length advantage and was running strongly. But after passing the eighth pole, Omaha Beach was resolutely bearing down on the favorite.
“Shancelot fully extended, trying to fend off the classy Omaha Beach,” said Mirahmadi. “Shancelot digging in! Omaha Beat at the rail is coming to him!”
For Omaha Beach, thank goodness the distance of the Santa Anita Sprint Championship was six furlongs and not anything shorter. He put his head in front right at the finish.
“What a training job by Richard Mandella!” Mirahmadi exclaimed.
And what a superlative performance it was by Omaha Beach to prevail by a head despite having so much to overcome.
By the way, Mandella pulled off something similar back in 1995. Afternoon Deelites, owned by Burt Bacharach, won his first five career starts before finishing a close second in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. After Afternoon Delights ran eighth in the Kentucky Derby at 1 1/4 miles on May 6, he went on the shelf. He did not race again until he won Santa Anita’s Grade I Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs on Dec. 26.
WINNER’S FINAL TIME DESERVES PRAISE
Omaha Beach completed six furlongs last Saturday in 1:08.79. That was terrific on a surface that produced winning times ranging from 1:10.08 to 1:13.39 in the nine six-furlong races run during the first seven days of the Santa Anita autumn meet.
Earlier on the card Saturday at Santa Anita, Lady Ninja won the Grade III L.A. Woman Stakes with a final time of 1:16.79 for 6 1/2 furlongs. The six-furlong fraction in that race was 1:09.84, roughly five lengths slower than Omaha Beach’s 1:08.79.
“Anybody that doesn’t realize what 1:08 and change means here at Santa Anita these days isn’t watching the races here because they’re not very fast,” Mandella said Monday morning to Steve Byk on his SiriusXM radio program At the Races. “Saying that, the injuries are way down from the problems we had earlier in the year. So, it’s probably a good thing.”
REMARKABLE BEYER SPEED FIGURE PATTERN
Perhaps it has been done before, but I sure do not recall seeing this before. Ever since Omaha Beach’s first race, he has improved his Beyer Speed Figure in seven straight starts.
Below are Omaha Beach’s figures:
Beyer (Finish) Race and Date
103 (1st) Grade I Santa Anita Sprint Championship on Oct. 5, 2019
101 (1st) Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 13, 2019*
96 (1st) Grade II Rebel Stakes on March 16, 2019
90 (1st) maiden special weight race at Santa Anita on Feb. 2, 2019*
83 (2nd) maiden special weight race at Santa Anita on Jan. 4, 2019
80 (2nd) maiden special weight race at Del Mar on Nov. 18, 2018+
78 (2nd) maiden special weight race at Santa Anita on Sept. 29, 2018+
62 (3rd) maiden special weight race at Santa Anita on Sept. 2, 2018+
*Run on a sloppy track
+Run on turf
WHAT’S NEXT FOR OMAHA BEACH?
According to Mandella, three Breeders’ Cup races are under consideration for Omaha Beach: the Sprint, the Dirt Mile and the Classic.
On Byk’s show Monday, Mandella said that if he “had to choose today, I’d say that the Sprint is very interesting to just go back and try that.”
Mandella indicated he just is not sure if there is enough time for Omaha Beach to run in the 1 1/4-mile BC Classic from the six-furlong race he ran in last Saturday.
“We’re just going to have to wait and see about that,” Mandella said. “Right now, I’d say nothing’s out of the question. But more than likely it would be the Sprint.”
It probably won’t happen, but I would love to see Omaha Beach in the BC Classic. One reason I would love to see that is how the prospective field for this year’s BC Classic is shaping up. It appears to me that this year’s BC Classic is going to be far from one of the strongest we have ever seen.
One thing Omaha Beach does seem to have going for him regarding the BC Classic is he already has a pretty good foundation at this point. Don’t forget, he had been deemed ready to run in a mile race on Sept. 28.
If Omaha Beach were mine, I would not be inclined to run him in the BC Sprint because of his probable opponents in that race. This year’s BC Sprint is expected to attract the likes of Mitole, Imperial Hint and Shancelot. Personally, I’d much rather run in the BC Classic than against Mitole, Imperial Hint and Shancelot in the BC Sprint.
I guess if the BC Classic turns out to be too far too soon, then the BC Dirt Mile would seem to make the most sense. Granted, the BC Dirt Mile is expected to have a strong cast headed by Catalina Cruiser. But I would rather run against Catalina Cruiser and company than Mitole and company.
Perhaps the main reason I would love to see Omaha Beach in the BC Classic is his trainer. Because if there was ever a trainer capable of somehow having Omaha Beach sufficiently prepared to start in and possibly win the BC Classic, it is Richard Mandella.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL
Following Omaha Beach’s win in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, he moved into the Top 10 this week in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. He is the lone newcomer in this week’s Top 10.
Elate dropped out of the Top 10 this week after she finished second to Blue Prize in the Grade I Spinster Stakes at Keeneland last Sunday.
Here is the Top 10 in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll for this week:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 387 Bricks and Mortar (27)
2. 342 Midnight Bisou (11)
3. 294 Sistercharlie (1)
4. 267 Mitole (1)
5. 198 McKinzie
6. 176 Code of Honor
7. 148 Imperial Hint
8. 95 Catalina Cruiser
9. 82 Vino Rosso
10. 77 Omaha Beach