Sent to post as the 2-1 favorite in the field of nine, Team Valor and Earle Mack's Spanish Mission was just able to nose out 38-1 longshot Pedro Cara on the wire in Saturday's $1 million Jockey Club Derby Invitational at Belmont Park. The 3-year-old son of Noble Mission had been exclusively campaigned in Europe, winning a Group 3 back in July, but this victory earned the colt an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders' Cup Longines Turf in November at Santa Anita Park. Ridden by Jamie Spencer for trainer David Simcock, Spanish Mission ran 1 1/2 miles over Belmont's “good” turf in 2:27.58.
“As the race developed, it was just beautiful to watch,” said Ian Russell, assistant to Simcock. “The further he went, the better he got into it and he just gets his head down. Jamie dropped his rein, but the horse stayed on and kept to his job. He knows his job and the further he goes, the better he's going to be. He's a lovely horse for the future.”
Content to trail the field in the early going, Spanish Mission was at least ten lengths off the leading A Thread of Blue, who was seeking to add a second leg of the Turf Triple to his resume after winning at Saratoga. Spencer got Spanish Mission into position around the far turn, going wide but maintaining momentum to make his run on the leaders.
A Thread of Blue held his lead until the sixteenth pole,w hen Pedro Cara burst by to take command. Spanish Mission's continued to grind away at his rival, however, and got his nose down on the finish line for the victory. Pedro Cara had to settle for second, while San Huberto surpassed A Thread of Blue to complete the trifecta.
“He's a good horse. I think he'll get better with age,” said Barry Irwin, founder of co-winning owner Team Valor. “When I bought him, the plan was to leave him in Europe this year and then bring him to America next year. Halfway through the season, I realized this is strictly a European horse and I told my guys, 'He's never coming home, but I'll bring him for this race.'
“We're looking at the Melbourne Cup [in the future] with this horse. Earle [Mack, co-owner] would rather win that race than anything, and I'd like to win it as well.”
Added Spencer: “He didn't break that well but I wasn't too concerned. I was happy he was relaxed and found his rhythm coming along the backside.
“Going into the final turn he was giving me all he had. I dropped my right rein and even though I was using the crop, when you drop your reins in a race, it typically signals to the horse that the race is over. I would've been mad with myself had we lost but he got back on his game and finished strong. He was a very game horse today.”
Bred in Kentucky by St. Elias Stables, Spanish Mission is out of the Street Cry mare Limonar. He sold for $125,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling sale, but failed to meet his reserve when bidding stopped at $90,000 in the Tattersalls Craven Breeze-Up sale. The colt has hit the board in all but one of his seven starts, winning three times, and boasts earnings over $700,000.
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