Saturday belonged to longshot Mongolian Groom, who brings his trainer Enebish Ganbat and owner Mongolian Stable back to the Grade 1 winner's circle for the first time since Mongolian Saturday surprised the world at 16-1 in the 2015 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. Four years later and at 25-1, Mongolian Groom wired the field in the Awesome Again to defeat 1-5 favorite McKinzie by 2 1/4 lengths. Ridden by Abel Cedillo for his third win on the card, the 4-year-old son of Hightail ran nine furlongs over Santa Anita's fast main track in 1:49.27.
“Honestly, I didn't expect he was going to win because he was running against two of the best horses on the dirt and the best two trainers, Baffert and Sadler,” said Ganbat, a native of Mongolia who has been training in the United States since 2010. “I told everyone I'm happy if he comes in third. I bet $500 on show.”
The victory earns Mongolian Groom and his connections a berth to the Breeders' Cup Classic in early November, though the gelding is not Breeders' Cup nominated. It will cost $200,000 to make Mongolian Groom eligible for the Classic, and Ganbat told TVG that he has received an invitation to run in Japan's G1 Champions Cup at Chukyo Racecourse on Dec. 1.
Mongolian Groom had been knocking at the door all season, starting with a third-place finish in his graded stakes debut in the G1 Santa Anita Handicap back in April. More recently he was second in the G2 San Diego and third in the G1 Pacific Classic, but faltered and finished fifth in the G1 Woodward when shipped cross-country to Saratoga.
Cedillo, who has been riding in Southern California since the summer at Del Mar, was following instructions when he sent Mongolian Groom to the lead in the Awesome Again. McKinzie was the first one out of the starting gate, but jockey Mike Smith didn't seem to be intent on making the lead so Cedillo took advantage and grabbed the front spot into the clubhouse turn.
“Thank you Enebish Ganbat, for trusting me,” Cedillo said. “He told me don't change anything, just do what you do with him . . . just stay close, and I saw McKinzie didn't go so I took the lead.”
Mongolian Groom led Isotherm by a half-length through fractions of :23.99 and :48.29, meaning he went the second quarter in a relatively comfortable 24.30 seconds. McKinzie stayed in range while three wide, and Pacific Classic winner Higher Power, who had stumbled out of the gate, was between Seeking the Soul and Draft Pick in a tightly-knit contingent down the backstretch.
Still in cruise control after three-quarters in 1:12.07, Mongolian Groom had a solid one-length advantage approaching the stretch run. Smith and McKinzie rolled up to join him as they straightened toward the wire, but found that Mongolian Groom still had something left in the tank.
A few right-handed reminders from Cedillo had Mongolian Groom striding away from the heavy favorite, and he kicked clear to cross under the wire 2 1/4 lengths ahead of McKinzie. Higher Power managed third after his stumbling start, and Seeking the Soul finished fourth.
“I thought I could go with the two outside horses, but they seemed like they were determined to get (the lead),” said Smith. “So I let them go figuring they'd entertain each other and we'd do what we do. That horse (Mongolian Groom) ran a huge race today. We lost the battle, but this ain't the war. Hopefully we'll come back and be ready.”
Bred in Kentucky by Calumet Farm, Mongolian Groom is out of the winning Dynaformer mare Bourbonesque. He was an $11,000 yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale, and Mongolian Stable purchased him for $12,000 at the OBS April 2-year-old in training sale. He didn't debut until his 3-year-old season and broke his maiden in his third start at Santa Anita, but didn't win again until an allowance race in February of this year. The gelding now has a record of 3-2-3 from 16 starts with earnings over $530,000.
“(Ganbat) went to a university in Russia, and the Russian mentality is, 'You fight to the end,' and that's what the horse did,” said Ganbat's interpreter Josie Goldberg. “He wasn't going to stop until he won. He didn't tell Abel anything, except, 'You know your job.'”
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