Kaleem Shah got his first stakes win with new trainer Doug O’Neill on Sunday as his lightly raced Iliad became a graded stakes winner with a 3 ½-length score in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita Park. The lightly raced son of Ghostzapper was ridden to victory by leading jockey Flavien Prat substituting for regular rider Rafael Bejarano, who took off his Sunday mounts due to body soreness after a scary-looking spill the previous day.
As the 2-1 second choice in the field of five, Iliad was worth $6, $4 and $2.20. Runner-up longshot Law Abidin Citizen checked in for second, completing a $13.40 exacta and paying $6 and $2.40 at odds of 9-1. Battle of Midway, as the 4-5 favorite, was good for $2.10. The trifecta returned $32.70.
Battle of Midway, Aquamarine and Blabimir rounded out the order of finish.
From the gate, O’Neill’s other runner, Blabimir, went straight for the lead and, with Iliad in hot pursuit on the far outside and Law Abidin Citizen and Aquamarine in between, blazed through early splits of :21.89 and :44.08 for the first half-mile. The early leader began to grow weary as he made his way around the far bend while Iliad was in in full flight on the far outside, fairly easily gaining ground to reach the lead by the time he made the top of the stretch.
Prat allowed Iliad to drift over toward the rail for the stretch drive and under consistent urging drew away to the easy victory. Iliad posted the six-furlong split in 1:08.52 and stopped the clock for the seven-furlong test in 1:21.62 over a fast main track.
“It was a very lucky pickup mount,” Prat said. “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. When I asked him, he performed so well.”
A year ago, O’Neill also trained the San Vicente winner and that runner, the reigning juvenile champion Nyquist, went on to win the Kentucky Derby (GI). This year the circumstances surrounding Iliad could not be any different from Nyquist’s in that Shah has only had horses with O’Neill for six weeks whereas Nyquist’s owner is the trainer’s longtime client. Iliad is very lightly raced while Nyquist was a seasoned champion, and Iliad has yet to try to turns when a year ago Nyquist owned a pair of routing victories. Nonetheless, Iliad has earned a position on the Triple Crown trail and will likely continue in that direction in Southern California, Shah said.
“His last breeze was awesome,” Shah said. “I talked with Doug and he had a lot of confidence that he’d run well today and he ran to his works.
“We can all hope and pay for horses like this. 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. I think we’ll stay here and try to run in the [March 11] San Felipe (GII) and then, hopefully the Santa Anita Derby (GI) [on April 8].”
Iliad, Shah said, is named for Homer’s ancient Greek poem and the prequel to the classic “The Odyssey.” One of the oldest pieces of Western literature, The Iliad itself tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles.
“I was looking for a great name just like Bayern, which represented a great soccer team,” Shah said. “This one, Iliad, represents a great western classic in literature.”
Iliad was purchased for $285,000 as an OBS March 2-year-old in training nearly a year ago, with his former trainer, Bob Baffert, signing the sales slip. He’s now won two of three career starts for earnings of $147,345.
In the San Vicente, Iliad went to post with an incorrectly spelled saddle towel. The colt’s name was “Lliad” on the cloth, which delighted Shah’s family when informed that another good horse — California Chrome — once had an incorrectly spelled saddle towel before winning the 2014 Derby.
“Really?” Shah’s wife, Lubna said when told. “That’s got to be good luck. Maybe all his saddle towels from now on should be spelled wrong.”