Slam Dunk Racing and Michael Nentwig's Cleopatra's Strike got the first graded stakes triumph of his career on Saturday, striding home a determined 3/4-length winner of the G2 John Henry Turf Championship. Sent off at odds of 9-1, the gelded 6-year-old son of Smart Strike ran down frontrunner and 5-2 second choice and stablemate Acclimate in the Santa Anita stretch. Ridden by Abel Cedillo and trained by Phil D'Amato, Cleopatra's Strike completed 1 1/4 miles over the firm turf in 1:58.22.
“I was confident in his ability, I just didn't know what his distance limitation may or may not be,” said D'Amato, who in addition to the one-two finishers, saddled longshot Ya Gotta Wanna, who finished seventh. “He trained like a horse that could go a mile and a quarter and Abel rode him to perfection.”
Fourth at the rail, about five lengths off the lead as the horses crossed the wire for the first time, Cleopatra's Strike, who had been based at Woodbine Racecourse in Toronto prior to making his first start for D'Amato two starts back here on Jan. 5, angled off the rail at the quarter pole, headed Acclimation a sixteenth out and in furious final drive, won going away.
“Phil told me to 'make sure to keep him off the pace,'” said Cedillo. “If he was going to stay with Acclimate (who was ridden by Victor Espinoza), it was going to go bad. I knew if I could keep him on the bit, he was going to come home. I got a perfect trip. I was just sitting inside and everybody got tired and I just went. I tried to go with Victor (at that point), because I know that horse is tough on the lead.”
Bred in Ontario by Sam-Son Farm, Cleopatra's Strike is out of the placed Sky Classic mare Cleopatra's Needle. His female line traces back to one of Sam-Son's foundation broodmares, Oleana, through her multiple stakes-winning granddaughter Queen of Egypt.
The gelding ran strictly in allowance company until 2019, winning just three times but placing an additional 11 times from 24 starts. Purchased privately and sent to D'Amato this year, Cleopatra's Strike ran second in the G2 San Gabriel in January and returned earlier this month to run second in an allowance race at Del Mar. Overall, the gelding has four wins from 25 starts for earnings of over $370,000.
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