By Margaret Ransom
For Omaha Beach fans, the summer of 2019 was a long one.
First, the Fox Hill Farm-owned son of War Front was scratched as the early Kentucky Derby (G1) favorite two days before the race back in May due to an entrapped epiglottis.
Then he underwent surgery to repair the condition and wasn’t expected to miss too much training. But by June, after he had already spent five weeks at WinStar Farm in Kentucky, many were wondering if he’d ever be back.
When he did return to training in mid-June, at first his Hall of Fame trainer, Richard Mandella, targeted the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar in mid-August, but as the race approached a virus derailed those plans. Then the colt’s return would be in the Ack Ack Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs in late September, but a blown work at his home base of Santa Anita shut the book on that idea.
Toss in a stallion deal at Spendthrift Farm for 2020 and many wondered if he’d be back at all, let alone at the level he was when he was sidelined.
So when Omaha Beach finally made his return after six months on the shelf in Saturday’s $300,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1), at a distance he’d never tried and was clearly not bred for, fans were treated to quite a show.
Under regular jockey Mike Smith, Omaha Beach let favored rival Shancelot set all the pace and instead sat right off the leader before running his main rival down in the lane to prevail by head, earning a ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) in four weeks by virtue of the race’s status as a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” status.
The final time for the distance was a quick 1:08.79.
“He broke extremely well, almost too well,” Smith said. “He slipped a little leaving there, but man he settled right in behind them really nice. He was loaded coming off that turn … His last work was brilliant and he ran the way he worked.
“He’s a throwback to those classic horses. He can do anything. Three quarters to a mile and a quarter. He’s extremely fast and he’s got tremendous stamina … He can do it all. The only thing that surprised me today was that I had to stay inside. His last work was his best one, no question. Today, he hit his best stride late.”After Saturday’s race, Mandella was thoroughly enjoying the victorious return, but also the multiple options for Omaha Beach’s next race.
“I want to enjoy this one, but the Sprint, the Mile and the mile and a quarter (Classic) are all possible,” Mandella said. “I’m just very relieved to have him back. At the eighth pole, I thought we were (going to be) clear, but it took some race riding… This horse has a heart of gold and he’s got the greatest personality of any horse I’ve ever had. I would say anything’s possible.”
Omaha Beach was the 5-2 second choice in the five-runner field and paid $7.20, $2.40 and $2.10.Omaha Beach, who won the Arkansas Derby (G1) and Rebel Stakes (G2) earlier this year now owns a record of 8-4-3-1 and has earned $1,301,800.
Trainer Jorge Navarro was disappointed in Shancelot’s second-place finish and wasn’t pleased with the ride from his jockey, Emisael Jaramillo. The conditioner wasn’t sure if the son of Shanghai Bobby would run in the Breeders’ Cup or be freshened for a 2020 campaign, which would begin in the Dec. 26 Malibu Stakes (G1).
“I really don’t know what to think right now, to be honest,” Navarro said. “I thought maybe he (Jaramillo) waited too long … What’s he looking back for?”
Shancelot, at odds of 1-5, returned $2.10 and $2.10 while Flagstaff, who was 2 ½ lengths farther back in third, paid $2.10. California Street, Horse Greedy and One Flew South completed the order of finish.