Trainer Cipriano Contreras served for decades as an assistant in the barn of Chicago stalwart Michael Reavis. Reavis has a reputation for being a shrewd claiming trainer, and when Contreras struck out on his own in 2016, Contreras began to write his own history of smart moves in the claiming game.
Today, Contreras set himself a high bar for success at the claim box.
On March 3, Contreras dropped a $25,000 slip for eight-year-old gelding Matrooh at Oaklawn. The move paid immediate dividends for Matrooh's new owners, Conteras (as Contreras Stable, Inc.) and Raul Bahena (as Crystal Racing Enterprises), as he ran down heavy favourite Guns Loaded in a sprint allowance in Hot Springs. After that, Matrooh returned to graded stakes company, a level from which he has been absent since January 2016. The ambitious move paid off, as Matrooh's last-to-first kick got him home well clear in this afternoon's Grade 3 Hanshin Cup.
Goneghost, winner of the Milwaukee Avenue Handicap at Hawthorne last out, showed his customary early speed. But, he had a horde of company: Great Wide Open sent inside him, last year's Hanshin Cup winner Crewman engaged him to his outside, and both 2017 Bruce D Memorial Stakes winner Harmac and 2.4/1 race favourite Master Merion showed pace even farther outside. Harmac and Great Wide Open eventually settled back, but Crewman and Master Merion continued to take it to speedy grey Goneghost. They battled through an opening quarter of 23.95 and an opening half of 46.54. Meanwhile, Matrooh was content to settle back and trail about half a dozen lengths off the pace down the backstretch.
Jockey Santo Sanjur asked Matrooh for what he had going into the far turn. He launched a run while the leading trio continued to fight, regaining touch with the field and circling four wide with a quarter of a mile to go.
Into the stretch, Goneghost kicked clear and opened up, carrying a four-length advantage to the furlong pole. But, Matrooh kept rolling on the outside. He reeled Goneghost in, kicked two and a half lengths clear in the last ten strides, and stopped the clock in 1:36.43 for the mile. Goneghost ran on a clear second. He got home five lengths clear of Arlington polytrack maven, who overcame a troubled trip to finish third, half a length clear of Master Merion. Great Wide Open, Ghost Hunter, Christian C, Harmac, and Crewman completed the order of finish.
Matrooh is an eight-year-old bay gelding by Distorted Humor out of the Personal Flag mare Rockcide, bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm LLC. Though Matrooh knew graded victory already -- he had won the Bold Ruler Handicap (G3) in 2015 for previous owner Shadwell Stable -- he brought all of his human connections to a graded stakes winners' circle for the first time ever. It was Contreras's first graded stakes victory as a trainer. It was the first graded stakes victory for both owners, Contreras and Bahena.
And, it was the first graded stakes victory for jockey Santo Sanjur. Sanjur began riding in the United States in 2013 in Kentucky, and started riding on the Chicago circuit in April of 2014. His first stakes victory of any kind came at Hawthorne when he and Royal Posh won the 2014 Powerless Handicap, and he earned his first two graded stakes placings on Ride to the Million day last year with My Bariley (third in the G3 American Derby) and Oak Brook (second in the G3 Arlington Handicap). “I’m super excited for my first graded stakes win,” Sanjur remarked after the race. “I’ve been here for four years – I worked really hard for that.”
After four years primarily riding in Chicago, this summer Sanjur hangs his tack primarily at Indiana Grand, the same track at which Contreras primarily runs. They often team up, and have won seven of their thirty-two starts together over the last two months. “I’m so happy to come back to Arlington,” Sanjur said after the race. Familiar with the course and configuration, and familiar with Matrooh after riding him to victory at Oahlawn last month, he knew just what to do in the race “I just let [Matrooh] break, and he broke really well. It was easy after that. I knew that I had a lot of horse at the finish.”
Matrooh returned $19.60 to win. The exacta over Goneghost (2-8) paid $46.90 for each $1 on the combination. A $0.50 trifecta with Western Elegance third (2-8-10) came back with $207.85. A superfecta with Master Merion in the bottom rung (2-8-10-9) returned $221.34 for each dime on the combination.
All photos courtesy of Coady Photography.
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