Kiaran McLaughlin thought Takaful could be a Grade 1 winner ever since the colt debuted an 8-length winner as a 2-year-old in a Belmont Park maiden race at 6 1/2 furlongs. Eleven months later, Takaful lived up to McLaughlin’s hopes when he won the $350,000 Vosburgh Stakes, the first of four graded stakes on Saturday’s program at Belmont.
After the race, McLaughlin savored the moment, leaning over the rail of the finish line stage and gazing out at the infield video board as the replay began.
McLaughlin watched as the 3-year-old son of Bernardini rated a length off Grade 1 winner and 6-5 favorite El Deal. After a quarter in :22.31, Takaful kept close to El Deal while the rest of the field was well behind. Their closest rival, Mr. Crow, raced 4 lengths back in third.
“I liked it, I liked it. I felt like we were right there and he still had horse,” McLaughlin narrated. “Jose (Ortiz) was very confident that we were going to be close to him and he wanted to be very close. It was just the race shape that happened and it worked out great.”
Ortiz gave Takaful a few taps on the shoulder turning into the stretch and Takaful edged closer to El Deal. Past a :44.76 half, Takaful drew alongside his elder rival. Ortiz smacked Takaful right-handed before switching to a left-handed stick as he guided Takaful closer to his opponent. He went back to the right-handed stick, then switched again inside the final sixteenth. Takaful responded and reached even further when he saw Stallwalkin’ Dude closing down the center of the track. Takaful wore down El Deal and kept Stallwalkin’ Dude at bay to win by a length.
El Deal stayed for second from Stallwalkin’ Dude. McLaughlin’s other runner, Celtic Chaos, closed from last to finish fourth for Zilla Racing Stables. Takaful completed 6 furlongs in 1:09.69.
“Jose just rode a great race. Stallwalkin Dude might have helped push a little late,” McLaughlin said. “That was a great win, and a good fourth, too. For the first Grade 1 race they’ve (Zilla) been in and he finished fourth, so that was good.”
Although McLaughlin and owner Shadwell Stable liked Takaful from the start, his first stakes win is the culmination of months of hard work.
After Takaful broke his maiden, McLaughlin tried unsuccessfully to stretch the colt out. After a third in the Remsen and sound defeats in the Jerome and Fountain Of Youth Stakes, where he lost by 39 1/4 and 27 lengths, respectively, McLaughlin went back to the drawing board.
“The distance was the main thing and because he was so difficult to train, he had little issues bothering him, like his mouth was cut up and little things just because he is a difficult horse to train, so we just had to back off and regroup,” McLaughlin said. “Mostly, he was just hard on himself because he was too keen.
“We backed off after his few races. We started over with him basically and just jogged him for like 30 days to try and fill back up the gas tank and then started galloping him. He just had some time and the kid, Eduardo, that gets on him every day did a great job with him. We put special equipment on him, so it’s fun, very rewarding.”
Takaful’s mischievous nature resulted in a scratch from his would-be return at Belmont in July after breaking away from the pony.
“It is kind of neat when you have a horse who takes such special attention and he wins a Grade 1, is a feather in everybody’s hat, including Jose Ortiz,” McLaughlin said. “He stayed with him when he got loose that time. We were happy that Jose is on him today.”
Takaful returned Opening Day at Saratoga and won an allowance gate-to-wire by 5 1/4 lengths. His impressive victory and the strong gallop-out that followed indicated big things to come from the colt. He finished second to Practical Joke next out in the Grade 1 Allen Jerkens before clicking in the Vosburgh.
“When he won that allowance race up there, he was very, very impressive on all figures. We knew he was special,” McLaughlin said. “You want to get (the potential) out of him and my team has done a great job. It’s nice that the team gets rewarded by winning a Grade 1. All of them worked hard with this horse, so it’s great. It’s very satisfying.”
Coming into the Grade 1 Beldame off a second to Abel Tasman in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks and a 5 1/2-length romp in the Grade 1 Alabama, Elate was the horse to beat. The public knew it and sent the 3-year-old daughter of Medaglia d’Oro off at 3-10. Jockey Jose Ortiz knew it, and he had a plan to win the race. The other riders knew it, too, and did their best to contain the Bill Mott-trained filly.
“I broke and my plan was to follow Johnny the whole way, and that’s what I did,” Ortiz said. “Mott told me, ‘they have more speed than you, just sit, not too far off them,’ and that’s what I did. I followed Johnny because I thought he had a good chance.”
Ortiz stuck to his plan and from the inside starting stall, followed behind pacesetter Bishop’s Bond just behind stalking Money’soncharlotte with John Velazquez aboard. Elate rated 1 1/2 lengths behind a :23.36 opening quarter and a :47.08 half.
Past three-quarters in 1:12.10, Ortiz stood high in the irons. He could feel Elate was full of run, but as Bishop’s Pond and Money’soncharlotte raced in front of him and Javier Castellano’s mount, Eskenformoney, ranged up alongside, Ortiz had to bide his time.
“At the quarter-pole, Javier was on the outside, so I couldn’t go anywhere really,” he said. “Everything I told her to do, she did it. She listens very good.”
Ortiz followed Velazquez into the stretch, letting Verve’s Tale advance to her inside. With two horses in front of Elate and one rival on either side, Ortiz searched for a way out. The other riders shook up their mounts. Castellano went to the stick. Ortiz still stood tall and held Elate like she was tracking a workmate in a morning move.
“Everybody was riding, trying to go faster, but in front of me, they don’t move. They don’t move forward, they don’t move backward, they were just steady,” he said. “I had a lot of horse, to be honest, I had a lot of horse and I wanted to hold her a little bit more, but I had too much horse.”
Just outside the furlong pole, Ortiz saw an opening between Bishop’s Pond and Money’soncharlotte. He put his head down, crouched, and shook up Elate. She powered past her competition in a matter of strides. Ortiz turned around. Looking over his right shoulder, he saw Velazquez and Money’soncharlotte fading about 4 lengths behind. Confidently, Ortiz took a hold of the reigns again and let Elate gallop under the wire 8 1/4 lengths clear.
“When I saw a little hole, I went,” Ortiz said. “I had a lot of horse and she responded very well. I went through the hole and she just exploded. A lot of talent right there.”
Ortiz first thought Elate was a standout after working her in the morning last year. Ortiz rode her to a 12 1/2-length maiden-breaking win at Aqueduct last November, but Elate proved frustrating in the months to come. She finished second in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and third in the Grade 3 Honeybee at Oaklawn Park before Ortiz pulled her up in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland in April. Now, Ortiz feels Elate is living up to her potential. She is 4-for-9 with $770,325 earned for owners Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm.
“I know her since before she ran. When she was a 2-year-old, I get on her, I breezed her from the gate, and since that moment, I thought she was special,” he said. “She let me down a little bit, but now she’s coming along.
“When she ran in Tampa, she came off the layoff and ran second that day. Then she went to Keeneland and I pulled her up in the Ashland. She had a bad step, but good thing she didn’t get hurt. She really turned the tables in Saratoga in the Coaching Club. I knew she could have run that race. It was a very good race ride by Mike. There was an inquiry there, everybody knows the drama, but I feel very high on her since the first day and I love her.”
Maiden victory in Pilgrim
Donegal Racing’s Seabhac earned his first victory in the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes for 2-year-olds. Although he failed to win his first start, a 1 1/16-mile maiden special on the turf at Saratoga Aug. 5, trainer Todd Pletcher saw enough from the Scat Daddy colt’s second-place finish to enter back in the Grade 3 With Anticipation Stakes Aug. 30.
After racing 6 lengths behind the pace in the With Anticipation, Velazquez took up on Seabhac entering the stretch as rival Fort Wise Treaty dropped back sharply in front of them. Velazquez angled Seabhac wide to avoid more trouble. Although it took Seabhac several strides to gather himself, he made up 1 3/4 lengths in the final furlong while holding his head high and climbing to finish fourth and beaten just 2 1/4 lengths.
“We felt like both races that he ran at Saratoga were winning-quality races, he just didn’t finish first,” Pletcher said. “He got in quite a bit of traffic at the quarter-pole in the With Anticipation, got shuffled back and still closed well and we felt like blinkers was going to maybe make the difference. We just felt like he trained well enough and ran well enough to deserve that chance.”
Pletcher added blinkers in the Pilgrim, but lost rider Velazquez, who committed to Saratoga maiden winner and stablemate Maraud when Pletcher pointed Seabhac toward the Keeneland meet. When plans changed, Luis Saez got the call on Seabhac in the Pilgrim.
“In fairness to Johnny, we had originally planned to go to Keeneland with Seabhac and then as we got closer, it didn’t appear that he was going to get in because the race was going to overfill and as a maiden, he wouldn’t get in,” Pletcher said. “He was already committed to the other horse, so it really wasn’t anyone’s fault or anyone’s choice, it was just the way it worked out by circumstance.”
Seabhac avoided traffic in the Pilgrim, stalking leader Looking Ready through fractions of :24.61, :49.51 and 1:13.77 before taking the lead in the stretch. Seabhac held off the late charges of Voting Control and Maraud to win in the 1 1/16-mile stakes by a half-length in 1:43.48.
Beasley earns third win
Lee Lewis’ and Mark Grier’s Beasley earned the third win of his career in Saturday’s fifth, a 7-furlong allowance on the sealed main track. Beasley turned for home last of six, 3 1/2 lengths behind pacesetter Alex The Terror. Jockey Junior Alvarado saw a hole open at the top of the lane and swung Beasley off the rail into the three path. Under right-handed urging, Beasley beat Harlan Punch by a head. The narrow margin comes after Beasley broken his maiden by a nose last December and won a Saratoga allowance by a nose Aug. 17.
“He makes you earn it,” trainer Mark Hennig said. “In these sprint races, he’s going to be coming. He’s not quite quick enough to be up close. He had to kind of work his way through the crowd today, so he ran a good race. He’s quick enough, I just think he’s a better horse when he’s got a target to run at, which is what I’ve been trying to do with him.”
Beasley is 3-for-5 after Saturday’s win and sports another two placings, good for $161,500. Hennigh though highly enough of the Shackleford colt to try him on the Triple Crown trail last spring. Beasley finished fifth in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby March 11 before Hennig gave the colt a break.
“He gave us a feeling right away that he could be a nice horse and we were kind of chasing the Triple Crown a little bit this winter into the spring,” he said. “Once we had a little setback, we decided to give him time. We started bringing him back and let him get his confidence back. He got thrown to the wolves early on in his career, so why not just let him try and develop? I think he’s got a shot to turn out to be a really nice horse.”