CLEOPATRA’S STRIKE OVERHAULS ACCLIMATE LATE TO WIN GRADE II, $200,000 JOHN HENRY TURF CHAMPIONSHIP BY ONE LENGTH; TRAINED BY D’AMATO & RIDDEN BY CEDILLO, SMART STRIKE GELDING GET 1 ¼ MILES ON TURF IN 1:58.22
ARCADIA, Calif. (Sept. 28, 2019)–Ontario Canadian-bred Smart Strike stalked the early pace set by Acclimate and overhauled his well-fancied stablemate late to take Saturday’s Grade II, $200,000 John Henry Turf Championship by one length, providing former Northern California kingpin Abel Cedillo with his first-ever Santa Anita stakes win. One of three Phil D’Amato-trained horses in the John Henry, Cleopatra’s Strike got a mile and one quarter on turf in 1:58.22.
Fourth at the rail, about five lengths off the lead as the horses crossed the wire for the first time, Cleopatra’s Strike, who had been based at Woodbine Racecourse in Toronto prior to making his first start for D’Amato two starts back here on Jan. 5, angled off the rail at the quarter pole, headed Acclimation a sixteenth out and in furious final drive, won going away.
“Phil told me to ‘make sure to keep him off the pace,'” said Cedillo. “If he was going to stay with Acclimate (who was ridden by Victor Espinoza), it was going to go bad. I knew if I could keep him on the bit, he was going to come home. I got a perfect trip. I was just sitting inside and everybody got tired and I just went. I tried to go with Victor (at that point), because I know that horse is tough on the lead.”
Most recently a close second in a second condition turf allowance going 1 1/8 miles at Del Mar Sept. 2, Cleopatra’s Strike, a 6-year-old Smart Strike gelding, was off at 9-1 in a field of eight 3-year-olds and up and paid $20.60, $8.60 and $4.60.
“I was confident in his ability, I just didn’t know what his distance limitation may or may not be,” said D’Amato, who in addition to the one-two finishers, saddled longshot Ya Gotta Wanna, who finished seventh. “He trained like a horse that could go a mile and a quarter and Abel rode him to perfection.”
Owned by Slam Dunk Racing and Michael Nentwig, Cleopatra’s Strike registered his first stakes win and picked up $120,000 for the victory, boosting his earnings to $376,844 while improving his overall mark to 25-4-9-2.
Acclimate, a 5-year-old California-bred gelding by Acclamation, came off a gate to wire score in the Grade II Del Mar Handicap Aug. 17 and ran another huge race on the lead today. Off as the 5-2 second choice, he paid $5.00 and $3.20 while running second by three quarters of a length.
Richard Mandella’s United, the 2-1 favorite, checked in third, 1 ¾ lengths in front of Oscar Dominguez. Off as the 2-1 favorite with Flavien Prat, United paid $2.60 to show.
Fractions on the race were 22.79, 46.05, 1:09.75 and 1:34.28.