Soaking in another victory Saturday by Omaha Beach, trainer Richard Mandella joked that he should have had the colt gelded before he became such a superstar.
That's about all that would have stopped the 3-year-old's path to his next career at stud, which came a step closer after Omaha Beach waltzed to a 2 3/4-length win in Santa Anita Park's Grade 1, US$300,000 Malibu Stakes.
The victory both put an exclamation point on Omaha Beach's sophomore season and revved him up for potential favoritism in the Jan. 25 Pegasus World Cup (G1), his final career start before retiring to Spendthrift Farm.
A son of War Front Omaha Beach sat patiently off the pace, then made his signature middle move to the front through the turn, literally pulling jockey Mike Smith into the race.
Smith sat chilly Omaha Beach rounded four-wide to the lead and went on to coast to seven furlongs in 1:22.33, rebounding nicely from a runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
"He just gives you that confidence," Smith said. "Mr. Mandella had him training up to this race so well -- the whole crew.
"...I basically just stayed as still as I could and didn't want to mess it up, to be honest with you. He did it all on his own, and he did it pretty handily today."
Off slow that day, Omaha Beach now counts among his victories this season the Arkansas Derby (G1), Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1) and a division of Oaklawn Park’s Rebel Stakes (G2).
That resume is likely to garner him Eclipse Award consideration along with Maximum Security, who was first across the wire and controversially disqualified from the Kentucky Derby, a race Omaha Beach missed along with other summer classics while recovering from throat surgery.
Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms color bearer will stretch out to 1 1/8 miles in Gulfstream Park’s Pegasus, which carries a $3 million purse and will require its contenders to run medication-free.
With Much Better rushing up from a rail draw Saturday, Omaha Beach sat off an opening quarter mile of 22.43. He narrowed the margin when the half mile showed at 45.02, looming large outside of Much Better, Manny Wah and Complexity. A successful bid for the lead resulted, and there was never a need for Smith to look back.
"I thought there'd be a couple of them run out of there -- pace always makes the race -- but we weren't going to change our horse," Mandella said. "We just got him out of there running and let him do what he wants."
Roadster, the Santa Anita Derby (G1) hero last spring, ran on for second in the field of five. Manny Wah, Complexity and Much Better rounded out the order.
The victory gave Smith his 217th career Grade 1 win, a total that eclipsed the fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey for No. 1 all-time. Earlier in the card, he tied the mark by riding Hard Not to Love to an upset of the La Brea (G1) and re-rallied Mirth a race later to take the Robert J. Frankel (G3).
"It's very humbling," Smith said. "I'm just a very blessed man. When you're blessed with the opportunities to ride for the great people I get to ride for, Mr. Mandella, those kind of things happen."