Da Big Hoss rides the rail in Elkhorn

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April 23rd, 2016

The betting public had a hard time separating Da Big Hoss and Kaigun in Saturday’s $250,000 Elkhorn (G2) at Keeneland, sending both off at odds of 5-2, with Da Big Hoss a slight favorite. The market proved an able prognosticator, for Da Big Hoss narrowly held Kaigun in the turf feature.

An astute $50,000 claim by Skychai Racing and trainer Mike Maker last June, Da Big Hoss promptly captured the John’s Call at Saratoga and the Kentucky Turf Cup (G3) at Kentucky Downs. That earned him an audacious class hike into the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), and he fared respectably enough to rally from last for sixth. A similar effort back over the same course and distance in the Elkhorn would make him the one to beat.

Although Da Big Hoss has had mixed results since, his subpar efforts this winter came over a Gulfstream course that he didn’t seem to enjoy – a third in the December 26 W.L. McKnight (G3) and a fifth when last seen in the March 5 Mac Diarmida (G2). Kaigun had finished second in both. But in between, Da Big Hoss had crushed Kaigun in a course record-breaking John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3) at Sam Houston.

In assessing the frequent foes, the key question was how much getting away from Gulfstream would help Da Big Hoss. The progressive 5-year-old responded that it did, very much, thank you.

Well placed throughout by jockey Florent Geroux, Da Big Hoss never had to come off the rail. He drafted in the slipstream of 17-1 pacesetter A Red Tie Day, who tried to steal the race through fractions of :25.62, :51.11, 1:17.11 and 1:43.11. When the front runner left the door ajar at the top of the stretch, Da Big Hoss rumbled through to take command.

Kaigun, never far away in the compact field himself, pounced a fraction later on the outside. Between the ground loss (covering an extra 52 feet according to Trakus), and conceding first run to Da Big Hoss, he couldn’t quite get there and came up a half-length short.

Royal Albert Hall muscled through between horses to check in another half-length astern in third. A Red Tie Day was inconvenienced as he weakened into fourth. The stewards reviewed the incident and rightly made no change, since A Red Tie Day wasn’t going well enough to hold his position at the time in any event.

The top three all showed a nifty turn of foot as the 1 1/2-mile race quickened appreciably into a dash for home. Da Big Hoss took the shortest route to finish in 2:31.29.

Rounding out the field were Up with the Birds, who hopefully will move forward off this comeback; Twilight Eclipse, who has yet to regain his old form; St. Albans Boy; and the too-bad-to-be-true Idolo Porteno, who was in perfect stalking position before coming up empty on the final turn. The Argentine star had shaped so well in his U.S. debut (third in the Razorback [G3]) that I fear something may have gone amiss.

Da Big Hoss, who paid $7.40 to win, has now bankrolled $858,936 from his 18-9-1-3 line. Originally campaigned by his breeders, Gary and Mary West, the chestnut is by Lemon Drop Kid and out of the winning Touch Gold mare Lady Struck Gold. Thus his sire and broodmare sire are both Belmont S. (G1) winners. Da Big Hoss’s second dam is Grade 2 victress and multiple Grade 1-placed Lady Blessington, from the further family of dual French classic hero and fine young sire Lope de Vega.

Quotes courtesy of Keeneland

Winning rider Florent Geroux: “He’s a very neat horse, push-button. You can put him exactly where you want to be. If there’s a bit of an opening, when you ask him to go, he can push through very clear and very quickly. I think that made the difference today, the trip and saving ground. When I was able to see the opening at the top of the stretch, my horse kicked on very nicely and kept going.”

Winning trainer Mike Maker: “Gulfstream has a very firm turf course, and I’m not sure it was to his liking. That day (in the Mac Diarmida), I thought it was a very speed-favoring turf course. We tried to put him in a hot pace, and it just didn’t work out.”

Jockey Joe Bravo on runner-up Kaigun: “What a warrior. What can’t you say about Kaigun? He just loves to win, runs good. Trip makes such a big difference when it comes to turf racing. Da Big Hoss and Kaigun are pretty much dead-even horses, but having the inside post got (Da Big Hoss) in the winner’s circle today.”

Jockey Flavien Prat on third-placer Royal Albert Hall: “I got a good trip. I would have liked a little bit of a faster pace, but I was behind the winner and I think that’s the way to ride this horse. He likes to be a little quiet (at the beginning of the race) and then make the first move. He ran really great. He always tries his best.”

Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens on fourth-placer A Red Tie Day: “My horse was wanting to drift out just a little bit and I don’t know whether it was the inside (horse, Da Big Hoss) coming out or (Kaigun) coming in. It was kind of a combination. I told the stewards that is where I was going to finish anyway; my horse was tiring. He ran a great race.  I was very happy with the pace. I was walking the first part; the second quarter was real slow. I didn’t see the fractions (on the tote board), but I know in my head the second quarter was very slow. I was happy. This was a fun race to ride. It is the first time he had tried running this far and (trainer) Richard (Baltas) did a helluva job with him. It was a good effort from him.”

Photo courtesy Keeneland/Coady Photography.