Trainer Simon Callaghan has unleashed another classy import on the Southern California turf scene, judging by Qaraaba's authoritative victory in Sunday's Grade 3, $151,000 Robert J. Frankel Stakes at Santa Anita. Unhurried in last early by Julien Leparoux, the 5-2 second choice mowed down the battling trio of 7-5 favorite Tiz Flirtatious, More Chocolate and Halo Dolly to win going away by 1 1/4 lengths.
Qaraaba, an explosive last-to-first allowance winner in her debut for Callaghan, is now two-for-two since arriving stateside. Owned by Alice Bamford and Michael Tabor, the five-year-old Shamardal mare was earning her first career stakes score, advancing her record to 15-7-2-1 and more than doubling her bankroll to $171,130.
Present in the winner's circle for the trophy presentation was Humberto Ascanio, longtime assistant to the late Bobby Frankel. As he flanked Callaghan, the symbolism was apparent -- the torch had been passed to the new generation of horsemen. Callaghan has been a quick success on this circuit, especially with the European imports that Frankel had excelled with himself.
"He's obviously a legendary trainer," Callaghan said, "and someone I heard a lot of from overseas, but I wasn't around in California to witness his talents. It's an honor to win a race named after him."
Callaghan had no fewer than three entrants in the Robert J. Frankel, and his Imperialistic Diva went forward to set the pace through fractions of :24 2/5, :49 3/5 and 1:13 4/5 on the good turf course. Stakes debutante More Chocolate prompted in second, while Camelia Rose, Callaghan's other runner, stalked along the inside.
More Chocolate put her head in front on the far turn, but was soon accosted by Halo Dolly. As they fought it out at the head of the lane, Tiz Flirtatious loomed boldly on the outside and appeared ready to swoop past them.
Then Qaraaba launched her bid inside the final furlong, and the race was over. Quickening up stylishly to complete 1 1/8 miles in 1:49 1/5, the winner rewarded her backers with $7.20, $4 and $2.80.
"We thought the world of this filly from day one -- she's special," Callaghan said. "She'll get better as she goes further. You need to take her back and get her to relax, no matter what the pace is. Julien did a good job."
"Simon [Callaghan] told me to ride her with a lot of confidence, and I did," Leparoux said. "She's a very handy filly and she relaxed perfectly. As you could see, she won pretty easily and she had a lot left."
Tiz Flirtatious was a clear second by 1 1/4 lengths.
"I thought she ran well," trainer Marty Jones said of the runner-up. "She wasn't able to save much ground. I never had her on soft ground, so I don't know if she really prefers that or not, but she tried. The other filly just ran a little better. We'll see how she takes the race and we'll figure out where we go from here."
More Chocolate outdueled Halo Dolly by a half-length for third.
"The horse [More Chocolate] handled everything really well," jockey Garrett Gomez said. "She was just a little stronger than I was expecting her to be early on. I kept trying to get her to relax and get off the bridle; when she finally did, we were traveling well. I thought they were going to have a lot of trouble running by her when we turned for home, but a couple of the other fillies just outsprinted her. She ran a really good race."
I Dazzle, Camelia Rose, Imperialistic Diva, Hard to Resist and Vivo Per Lei rounded out the order under the wire.
Bred by Shadwell Estate Co. Ltd. in Great Britain, Qaraaba sported Sheikh Hamdan's colors as a juvenile. She placed in her first two starts at Newmarket for John Dunlop before breaking her maiden at Salisbury. Offered as a three-year-old at the 2010 Tattersalls July Sale, Qaraaba was purchased for $17,494 by trainer Seamus Durack, who eventually developed her into a useful handicapper. She flopped in her debut for new connections, but won once from three outings in 2011.
Qaraaba began her productive 2012 campaign with a handicap win over males on Kempton's Polytrack in March, and wheeled back 10 days later for a rapid double in a Doncaster handicap. Runner-up to Luca Cumani's Danadana in a Newmarket handicap under co-top weight of 133 pounds, she made a rare return to distaff company to capture a June 8 handicap at Doncaster. Qaraaba took a class hike versus males in the listed Wolferton Handicap at Royal Ascot June 22, where she finished a creditable fourth, beaten about a length by John Gosden's Gatewood, in her stakes debut. She concluded her European career with a fifth in the July 14 Steventon Stakes, once more against males, on heavy ground at Newbury.
"We'll look at the Santa Barbara next [Grade 2 at 1 1/4 miles on turf April 20], and hopefully the Beverly D. at Arlington next summer," Callaghan outlined. "She'll probably be better the further she goes. Distance won't be a problem."
Qaraaba is out of the winning Unfuwain mare Mokaraba, and her second dam is Muhaba, a winning full sister to Grade 2 victor and sire Sahm.
Qaraaba's third dam is triple classic heroine Salsabil, who swept the Group 1 One Thousand Guineas, Group 1 Oaks and Group 1 Irish Derby versus males, along with other top-level coups in the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac and Group 1 Prix Vermeille. In addition to Sahm, Salsabil has produced Group 3 vixens Alabaq and Bint Salsabil.
Salsabil is in turn a half-sister to Group 1-winning sire Marju and Group 3 scorers Danse Royale and Flame of Athens. This is also the family of Grade/Group 2 winners Echo of Light and Essential Edge, as well as Irish History, who placed third in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes in June.