Tom's Tribute remains razor sharp


Two-time defending champion Obviously was hammered into 2-5 favoritism in Sunday's Grade 2, $250,500 Del Mar Mile Handicap, but Tom's Tribute would bring about a changing of the guard in the Southern California turf mile ranks. The 3-1 second choice off his breakthrough victory in the July 20 Eddie Read over the Del Mar turf, Tom's Tribute continued his ascent by surging past the pacesetter and drawing one length clear. Obviously weakened to fourth under his top weight of 126 pounds.

Tom's Tribute, trained by Jim Cassidy for the Braly Family Trust, is now firmly on course for the November 1 Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita. The improving four-year-old has compiled a record of 13-6-3-1, $592,880, with likely more still to come.

A fast-closing third to Obviously in their only prior meeting in the June 14 Shoemaker Mile, Tom's Tribute had to reverse form with the odds-on favorite here. His more professional stalking trip in the Eddie Read implied that he was capable of bridging the two-length gap from the Shoemaker, and so it proved, as he once again clicked with Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith.

When the gate opened, Obviously got off to an even slower start than typical, and he turned on the blazing speed to overtake Alpha Bullet through an opening quarter in :22 ⅕ seconds. Obviously left his early rival behind as they straightened down the backstretch, opening up by four lengths while winging through the half in :45 ⅕ seconds. Handsome Mike and Tom's Tribute both crept forward and overtook the outclassed Alpha Bullet, but Obviously kept on free-wheeling up front.

As Obviously clocked 1:09 ⅖ for six furlongs, Tom's Tribute was rallying smartly on the far turn, and raising his supporters' hopes that he could give the favorite a scare. That scenario became a reality perhaps sooner than expected. Obviously began to tread water in upper stretch, shortening stride and coming under increasing pressure from Joe Talamo to find more.

Conversely, Tom's Tribute was just gliding onto the premises, and swooped to conquer in a few strides. Obviously was so spent that he could not hold off the other closers, Rock Me Baby and the staying-on Handsome Mike, who both collared him in the shadow of the wire.

Tom's Tribute reeled off the firm-turf mile in 1:33 ⅗ and returned $8.20 to win.

Rock Me Baby hit top gear late and bested Handsome Mike by a half-length, with Obviously another three-quarters of a length astern. There was a 3 ¼-length break back to Tigah, and a further 10 ¼ lengths to He Be Fire N Ice, followed by Alpha Bullet. Obviously's stablemate, Lil Bit O'Fun, was scratched.

Named in honor of the late Tom Braly, who passed away in 2010, and campaigned by his widow, Marilyn, Tom's Tribute did not make his racecourse debut until last summer. The chestnut was then on a learning curve for some time. He soon revealed his ability by breaking his maiden second time out over Hollywood's Cushion Track. After placing in two entry-level allowances on the Del Mar turf, he roared from well back to clear that condition at Santa Anita, and booked his passage to stakes company.

Tom's Tribute shortened up to about 6 1/2 furlongs on Santa Anita's downhill turf for last October's Uniformity, where he rallied impressively to capture his stakes debut. Up to the Grade 2 level for the December 26 Sir Beaufort over a mile, he faded late after arguing the pace and wound up sixth. Tom's Tribute next got off to a slightly tardy start in the February 1 Arcadia at the same course and distance, but finished well for second to Winning Prize. Making his first Grade 1 foray in the March 8 Frank E. Kilroe Mile, the still-learning four-year-old was prominent early, only to tire to seventh.

But Tom's Tribute began to turn the corner in the April 6 Thunder Road. He relaxed well off the pace, stormed 2 1/4 lengths clear, and equaled Wise Dan's course mark of 1:31.78 for the mile on the Santa Anita turf. Trying another Grade 1 tilt in the Shoemaker, he broke a bit slowly and steadied early, but flew late to dead heat with Silentio for third. Tom's Tribute put it all together with a driving score in the Eddie Read, and made it two straight in the Del Mar Mile.

Bred by Laura M. McKinney and Ouisha McKinney in Kentucky, Tom's Tribute was a $60,000 Keeneland September yearling. Marilyn Braly purchased him as a two-year-old in training at OBS March for $310,000. The Lion Heart colt was produced by the stakes-placed El Prado mare Halloween Fun, and his fourth dam is Grade 1 victress Chain Bracelet, whose descendants include multiple Grade 2 winner D' Funnybone. This is the family of Grade 1 queen Zoftig, dam of Grade 1 winners Zaftig and Zo Impressive, and further back, one finds champions Swale and Forty Niner.