The John Gosden-trained Mafaaz-GB ran down pacesetter Sochcahtoa-IRE in deep stretch and held off a late charge by Spring of Fame to win Wednesday’s inaugural running of the $115,000 Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes by a neck at Kempton Park near London.
In addition to the winner’s share of the purse, the 3-year-old colt earned an automatic spot in the starting gate for the 135th running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) on Saturday, May 2 and a $100,000 bonus should the horse compete in America’s greatest race.
Mafaaz-GB, the 11-2 favorite ridden by Richard Hills, ran 1 1/8 miles over the clockwise Polytrack surface in 1:55.13 in the maximum field of 14 three-year-olds.
The Great Britain-bred son of Medicean-GB out of the Danehill mare Complimentary Pass is owned by Shadwell Farm’s Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum.
Sheikh Hamdan, who campaigned eventual Belmont Stakes winner Jazil to a fourth-place finish in the 2006 Kentucky Derby, won the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs with Horse of the Year Invasor-ARG.
It was Mafaaz-GB’s second victory in three career starts. He won his debut at Kempton Park in September and was fifth in the Oct. 4 Tattersalls Millions at Newmarket, a race won by Gosden’s eventual Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf champ Donativum-GB with Group 1 Racing Post Trophy winner Crowded House-GB in second.
“He’s run a solid race and he’s got good form through Donativum and Crowded House,” Gosden said. “I like the way he finished it out. They were coming at him late but he’s done his job the hard way.”
Mafaaz-GB, one of the 401 three-year-olds nominated to this year’s Triple Crown, is likely to make his next start in the Grade I, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 11, three weeks in advance of the Kentucky Derby.
“I would probably think of going to the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland first,” said Gosden, who saddled Zabaleta to a 12th place finish in the 1986 Kentucky Derby. “We’ve got to get into that race, you know, but he is nominated to it. I’d be in favor of doing that and then vanning down the road. If we don’t get into that race, we go straight to Churchill.”
The Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes was an enhancement of a conditions race that was run on the same day last year, and was won by Campanologist who went on to win the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. The new creation – a partnership between Churchill Downs Incorporated, Kempton Park and Britain’s Jockey Club Racecourses – was announced last September and is designed to encourage international participation in the Kentucky Derby.
The race provides an additional incentive to owners and trainers who in the past may have been hesitant to point toward the Kentucky Derby because of uncertainty over whether their horse would have sufficient graded stakes earnings to qualify for the field. European contenders, in particular, have been at a disadvantage because their racing season generally gets underway later than the North American schedule and offers few graded stakes opportunities early in the year.
There has not been an international competitor in the Kentucky Derby since 2002, when there were three. Those horses included the Aidan O’Brien-trained Johannesburg (8th) and Castle Gandolfo (12th), and Essence of Dubai (9th), who competed for Dubai-based Godolphin. Canonero II, based in Venezuela, shipped to Churchill Downs to score an upset win in the Kentucky Derby in 1971 and remains the only horse based outside of North America to win the race.
The $100,000 bonus, if awarded, will be provided by Churchill Downs. The owner of the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes winner will still be responsible for all fees associated with the race, along with shipping costs.
POST-RACE QUOTES – THE KENTUCKY DERBY CHALLENGE STAKES
John Gosden, trainer, Mafaaz-GB, winner: “That was great. It was a bold initiative by Churchill Downs. I thought they made it tough on us with a mile and one [furlong] route straight on one bend . . . it was a little rough early on. But we had it in our minds to make a bit of a move on the back straight because the straight is so short. . . . He’s run a solid race and he’s got good form through Donativum-GB and Crowded House-GB. I like the way he finished it out. They were coming at him late but he’s done his job the hard way.
Q: Do you think this was a good test for him with the Kentucky Derby in mind? “Yes I do. You get a bit longer run at Churchill Downs. Probably in my mind I see nothing wrong with making the [Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes] a mile-and-a-quarter and I would bring it back another furlong and have a true trial over the distance. And I’d probably push the race back a few days.”
Q: Is this a little too close to the race? “It’s a little early. If I did anything, I’d probably make it 10 days later and a furlong longer. That’s the way I’d play it.”
Q: Why the addition of blinkers? “Because he’s always lacked a little focus. I thought in the big sales race (the Oct. 4 Tattersalls Timeform Million) with Donativum-GB and Crowded House-GB he was the last horse off the bridle. He played about. He goofed about. At home, he’s done the same quite a bit. He’s a bit of a playboy. I’m a great believer in blinkers for that type of horse. There’s a prejudice about blinkers in this country (England), which is wrong. In America, I can tell you horses like Northern Dancer and Secretariat raced in blinkers. They don’t have a prejudice against it there.”
Q: So what is the intention with him now? Do you go Stateside? “Yes, that would be the intention. I spoke to the manager, who is about to get on an airplane and he’ll talk to his boss (Sheikh Hamdan). [Jockey] Richard [Hills] is flying back tonight and I’ll have a chat with him. But I wouldn’t be at all opposed. I would probably think of going to the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland first. We’ve got to get into that race, you know, but he is nominated to it. I’d be in favor of doing that and then vanning down the road. If we don’t get into that race, we go straight to Churchill.”
Q: The Blue Grass is on Polytrack, which we know he handles. What about the dirt surface in the big one? “Yeah, I agree with you entirely. The thing about the dirt it’s not really the surface they’re going on, it’s the kickback. And that is something you can rehearse to a degree but it’s not the easiest. But he’s got enough tactical speed; he might be able to avoid a fair bit of it. But it’s my experience down the years is that horses can work very well on the dirt but not necessarily race on it because they’re not used to that kickback. You know, you can rehearse it a bit when you’re there. Also, Churchill is a unique track. It’s also been my experience from taking horses there back in the old days that you know very quickly whether or not they’re going to handle that track.”
Q: In terms of his temperament, is he the type of horse that can take all this traveling? “He’s tough. He’s arrogant. He’s not a pussycat. He’s got the right attitude from that point of view. He’s always tried to be in control of us. So, he’s a positive.”
Q: Richard Hills made an important move down the back straight because they slowed it right up? “It was obvious to us from our draw (post 7) why we chopped going into the bend. We weren’t going to be in a great position. . . . If we could improve our position on the backstraight, although it’s not normal to use a horse at that stage, it was the only way we were going to get back into the race. And that’s the way it turned out.”
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