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Godolphin Mile Grad Sharp Azteca Cuts Out Grade One Win & Indulgent scores big success for Godolphin

Author: Michele MacDonald

07/12/2017
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Through his striking good looks and speedy deeds on track, Sharp Azteca had long loomed as a runner with tremendous talent. Alas, he also seemed to be a horse who could not get the job done when it really counted. He seemed like the winner when running strongly in the Godolphin Mile in March at Meydan but then faded to third. He set the pace in the prestigious Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park in June but was passed and left more than six lengths behind by Mor Spirit. In the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Del Mar, he again led through the stretch but was caught by Battle of Midway.

But all that is ancient history now after Sharp Azteca ran the race of his life in the Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct on December 2. In notching the first Grade One victory of his career, the nearly black 4yo may have earned a ticket to the $16million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes on January 27 and perhaps a return trip to Dubai. “I wasn’t expecting this big of a performance. He ran his eyes out. What else can I ask?” said jubilant trainer Jorge Navarro, who also enjoyed some redemption from the victory. Navarro has been a controversial figure in American racing this year, after he and an owner with horses in his care were recorded in a video celebrating a win and strongly implying that performance enhancing drugs were used.

The leading trainer at Monmouth Park in New Jersey for the last five years, Navarro also has had horses test positive for medications, and racetracks in Indiana, Delaware and Maryland refused to take entries from him this summer following the video incident. Sometimes a good horse who runs a powerful race can exorcise many demons, and Sharp Azteca may have done just that for himself and for Navarro in the Cigar Mile, a race named to honour the winner of the inaugural Dubai World Cup who twice ruled as America’s Horse of the Year.

Rating off an early duel between Seymourdini and Americanize, Sharp Azteca relaxed under jockey Javier Castellano, waiting to surge to the lead coming out of the backstretch and then sprinting home to defeat Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Mind Your Biscuits by just over five lengths. As the highweight carrying 125 pounds, Sharp Azteca gave three pounds to Mind Your Biscuits and up to 11 pounds to his other eight rivals. Castellano praised his mount, noting that his win, particularly since it followed a hard Breeders’ Cup race in California just a month ago, was exceptional.

“I was really impressed by the way he did it,” said Castellano, who replaced Breeders’ Cup rider Paco Lopez in the saddle. “We’ve known this is a special horse for a long time. You don’t see too many horses do this; when they’re going too fast in the Breeders’ Cup, then they have a short rest and then perform this way today. I think he’s very impressive.” Navarro reported the day after the race that Sharp Azteca, who is owned by Ivan Rodriguez and is a son of Giant’s Causeway’s full-brother Freud, incurred a cut on a hind leg during the race, but the trainer described the injury as superficial.

“I’m still wowed by that performance,” added Navarro, who said it was ‘95% certain’ that the colt would go on to the Pegasus. Ultimately, he said the horse will determine his own future by his condition. “He lets us know here he’s at,” said the trainer, who also sent out X Y Jet to finish second by a neck to Muarrab in the 2016 Dubai Golden Shaheen. Mind Your Biscuits, who uncorked a strong rally from fifth early to prevail over all but Sharp Azteca in the Cigar Mile field, also could point to the Pegasus, which is the last target for likely American Horse of the Year Gun Runner.

Trainer Chad Summers indicated a return for a second try in the Dubai Golden Shaheen might be a possibility. While the Cigar Mile was the headline race on the program, Godolphin scored a significant graded win earlier in the day with the superbly bred Indulgent in the Grade 3 Go for Wand Handicap over one mile on dirt. A daughter of Bernardini who is a half-sister to Frosted, Indulgent set much of the pace and won her first graded event by one length. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin also sent out juvenile colt Avery Island for a good second in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes, a performance that earned four qualifying points for the 2018 Kentucky Derby. The Street Sense colt had previously won the Grade 2 Nashua Stakes.

“They both came back in excellent condition,” said McLaughlin the following day, adding that Avery Island would next target the Grade 3 Withers Stakes on February 3. “It was a good race in which he took dirt, and we were also giving most of the field six pounds in weight with his victory in the Nashua and two pounds to the winner,” McLaughlin noted of the Remsen, which was won by former turf runner Catholic Boy. “Overall, I think he ran well and will be better in the long run with this effort going forward.” Indulgent could race again even sooner or she may be retired to become a broodmare.

“She’s a barn favourite and, of course, is a half-sister to Frosted, so it was very important that she not only earned a Stakes win, but a Graded Stakes win. Going forward, we don’t know if she’ll be retired, but we’ll keep the Ladies Handicap (on January 21) under consideration,” McLaughlin said. “To put a graded victory under her name is very, very important,” declared Godolphin’s American racing manager Jimmy Bell. “It’s great for Sheikh Mohammad’s breeding to carry on this great family that’s been so good to us with Frosted, obviously, Midshipman and some others. This should make her a very welcome addition to the breeding operation. I think we’ll just take this a step at a time. I don’t know if this is her last race, but this is her most important race.”

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