Returning on his game from a six-month layoff, Michael House’s 6-year-old gelding Hunt (IRE) prevailed by a neck over favorite Heart to Heart to win Monday’s $400,000 Shoemaker Mile (G1) on turf at Santa Anita Park and earned an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Mile through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.
The Breeders’ Cup Challenge is an international series of 82 stakes races whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which will be held this year at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on November 2-3.
The Shoemaker Mile was the first North American series qualifier of 2018 following seven “Win and You’re In” races in South Africa, Australia, Japan, Argentina and Chile.
Trained by Phil D’Amato and ridden by Flavian Prat, Hunt became the fourth horse on the fourth continent to qualify for the Mile this year through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge. Hunt joins L’Omarins Queen’s Plate (G1) winner Legal Eagle (SAF) from South Africa, Star Doncaster Mile (G1) winner Happy Clapper (AUS) from Australia and Nuevo Maestro (CHI) from Chile, who captured the Gran Premio Club Hipico Falabella (G1.
Sent off at 9.80-1 in the eight horse field, Hunt ($21.60), tracked pacesetter Om and Heart to Heart through the top of the stretch and steadily gained ground three paths off the rail and passed Heart to Heart in the final yards, securing his first career Grade 1 win. Next Shares was a fast closing third followed in order by Om, Bowies Hero, Colonist, Blackjackcat and Arms Runner. Hunt, a grey/roan gelding by Dark Angel (IRE) out of Mansiya (GB) by Vettori (IRE), completed the mile in 1:34.07 over firm course.
“He’s been training really well, pretty much like he was at Del Mar last summer before he won two graded stakes,” said Prat. “I was expecting a good race, but you never really know off a layoff. He was fresh and he got the job done.”
Hunt captured the Seabiscuit Handicap by a nose (G2) at Del Mar on November 26 of last year, which was his third win of 2017, adding to victories in the Del Mar Handicap (G2) and the Eddie Read (G2). He trailed the field of 13 horses in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar prior to winning the Seabiscuit.
“The time off did this horse a world of good,” said D’Amato. “He’d been training so well, and I give a lot of credit to Flavien Prat. He’s been breezing this horse the last couple of times and really tightened the screws on him. He was pretty confident this horse was going to run a good race off of those workouts, and it showed today.”
Hunt improved his career record to nine wins in 27 starts. With the winner’s share of $240,000, he now has earnings of $908,764 from an overall mark of 27-9-5-3.
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