Iliad (Ghostzapper) gave the fledgling partnership of owner Kaleem Shah and trainer Doug O’Neill its second winner in two days and its first graded victory when he soared home first in the GII San Vicente S. at Santa Anita Sunday. The 2-1 second choice broke alertly and pressed stablemate Blabimir (Tapizar) through an opening quarter in :21.89. He was put under a snug hold by Flavien Prat, subbing for the injured Rafael Bejarano, down the backstretch, but began challenging again for the lead while three wide turning for home. Iliad stuck a head in front after a half in :44.08 and was a length better than Law Abidin Citizen (Twirling Candy) at the top of the stretch while favored Battle of Midway (Smart Strike) was within striking distance in third. With the expected challenge from the favorite never developing, Iliad powered home with authority, completing the seven furlongs in 1:21.62 and finishing 3 1/2 lengths in front of Law Abidin Citizen. Battle of Midway was another 4 1/2 lengths back in third.
“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.”
O’Neill added, “He’s a really nice horse, he has a lot of class. He ran huge today. We’ve just tried to not screw him up. Flavien rode a great race today and got it done. Going seven eighths can be a grind if you break real sharp and try to run all the way [on the lead]. Flavien knew what to do and did a great job.”
Trainer Bob Baffert and Shah announced they had ended their long-time business relationship Jan. 1 and Shah’s horses were split between O’Neill and trainer Art Sherman. Shah and O’Neill teamed up to win Saturday’s eighth race at Santa Anita with Aristocratic (Malibu Moon).
Shah said he expected Iliad to continue on the Southern California path to the GI Kentucky Derby, with the Mar. 11 GII San Felipe S. and Apr. 8 GI Santa Anita Derby on the docket.
“We can all hope and pray for horses like this,” Shah said. “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.”
Iliad, a well-beaten ninth on debut at Los Alamitos Dec. 3, graduated with a 3 1/2-length score going six furlongs at that track Dec. 18 in his final outing for Baffert.
Breeder Sungyeoun Lim purchased Little Swoon, with Iliad in utero, for $15,000 at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky February Sale. Iliad sold for $50,000 at the Keeneland November sale that year and was an $80,000 Keeneland September yearling in 2015 before blossoming into a $285,000 OBS March juvenile after a quarter work in :20 4/5. Little Swoon, whose first foal was multiple graded stakes winner Melmich (Wilko), produced a filly by Super Saver in 2015 and a filly by Take Charge Indy last year before being bred back to Paynter. Her Super Saver filly RNA’d for $65,000 at last year’s Keeneland September sale.
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