Trainer Doug O'Neill has won the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes for the second year in a row. Last year, Nyquist used the race as a springboard to win the Kentucky Derby; this year, it was Kaleem Shah's sophomore ridgling colt Iliad. The son of Ghostzapper was making his first start for O'Neill, having begun his career in Bob Baffert's barn before a well-publicized split of the long-time owner/trainer combination. Under Flavien Prat, subbing for the “body sore” Rafael Bejarano after a spill on Saturday, Iliad covered seven furlongs over Santa Anita's fast main track in a sharp 1:21.62, drawing away to win by at least three lengths after attending the pace early.
“He's a really nice horse, he has a lot of class,” O'Neill said. “He ran huge today. We've just tried to not screw him up. Flavien rode a great race today and got it done.”
Iliad broke well along the outside, but Blabimir rushed up from the center of the five-horse field to take the early lead. Prat was able to convince Iliad to settle just off the flank of the leader, with Aquamarine between horses in third. After a first quarter in :21.89, Law Abidin Citizen rushed up the rail to scoot into second position behind Blabimir, which appeared to upset the race favorite Battle of Midway, who tried to rush up on heels between horses and had to be restrained by jockey Mike Smith.
Approaching the far turn, Iliad began to rally on the outside of Blabimir just as Law Abidin Citizen did the same along the inside. Blabimir stayed in front to mark the half-mile in :44.08, but quickly dropped back after that. Iliad inherited the lead, and while briefly challenged by Law Abidin Citizen in the turn, he easily put away that rival and straightened for home with a one-length advantage. Under mild urging from Prat, Iliad drew away to win easily, crossing under the wire about three lengths in front of Law Abidin Citizen. Battle of Midway posted a mild rally to finish third in front of Aquamarine.
“It was a very lucky pick up mount,” said Prat. “He's a very nice horse. He broke well. Actually, he showed a lot of speed today. We were going pretty fast and I was trying to relax him all the way down the backside.”
Bred in Kentucky by Sungyeoun Lim, Iliad was a $285,000 purchase at the OBS 2-year-old in training sale, after bringing $80,000 as a yearling and $50,000 as a weanling, both at Keeneland. The colt won at second asking in December, and the San Vicente is just his third start. The win boosts his career earnings to just under $150,000 for two wins in three starts.
“We can all hope and pray for horses like this,” said owner Kaleem Shah. “I'm glad Iliad came along. I hope he continues to move forward. It's one race at a time in this business, but it looks very promising for now.”
O'Neill suggested that the next start for Iliad would be around two turns in the San Felipe on March 11.
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