Brazilian Triple Crown winner Bal a Bali made a splash in his U.S. debut, capturing the $100,000 American Stakes May 9 at Santa Anita Park.
The winner of 11-of-12 starts in his native Brazil, the 5-year-old horse by Put It Back squeezed between horses in the stretch under the guidance of jockey Flavien Prat and prevailed by a length over Talco. Gabriel Charles was 1-1/4 lengths back in third.
The trouble wasn't a concern for winning trainer Richard Mandella.
"Yes [he had trouble], but he's a pro," Mandella said. "He's run enough times. He knows what he's doing. [Prat is] a pro, too."
It was not only Bal a Bali's first U.S. race, but it was his first since a battle with laminitis last year.
"It really is fulfilling to get his first race in the U.S. under his belt, because he really had a serious problem coming out of quarantine when he had laminitis," Mandella said. "The podiatrist at Rood & Riddle [Equine Hospital], Vern Dryden, did an unbelievable job of getting him back like this."
Owned by Siena Farms and Fox Hill Farms, Bal a Bali stalked early leader War Academy during opening fractions of :23.80 seconds and :48.08 seconds through a half mile, then moved up to fourth when Winning Prize took over the lead after six furlongs in 1:11.98. Bal a Bali found room, however, and proved the best at 3-2 odds, finishing the mile in 1:35.69 over a turf course rated firm.
"He has worked so good in the mornings, so I was pretty confident," Prat said. "He just repeated his works today. I wasn't really surprised. He was the champion in Brazil, so he can be the champion here. Why not?"
Talco, a winner his last time out in the Thunder Road Stakes at Santa Anita April 4, rallied from last in the eight-horse field to finish a game second.
"My horse ran an awesome race," Talco's rider, Victor Espinoza, said. "I decided to make a run around the turn and he was really running, but the winner got through inside of us and he was too much."
The winner paid $5, $3.80, and $3 across the board. Talco delivered $4.80 and $3.20, and Gabriel Charles returned $5.40 to show.
Winning Prize finished fourth, followed by Enterprising, Little Jerry, War Academy, and Home Run Kitten to complete the order of finish.
Bal a Bali, Brazil's Horse of the Year of 2014, increased his lifetime earnings to $570,078 with the $60,000 winner's share. His record now sits at 12-0-1 from 13 career starts.
Mandella said the next race for Bal a Bali could be the $1 million Knob Creek Manhattan at Belmont Park June 6 or the $400,000 Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita June 13. He was bred by Haras Santa Maria de Araras from the Clackson mare In My Side.