Omaha Beach rallies to win in Santa Anita comeback

In a photo provided by Benoit Photo, Omaha Beach and jockey Mike Smith, Inside, overpower Shancelot, outside, with Emisael Jaramillo, to win the Grade I, $300,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship horse race Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif. (Benoit Photo via AP)

Omaha Beach rallied to win the $300,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship after a six-month layoff. Earlier, about 50 workers and supporters of horse racing rallied outside Santa Anita

ARCADIA, Calif. — Omaha Beach rallied to beat 1-5 favorite Shancelot by a head in the $300,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship on Saturday, winning after a six-month layoff for the former Kentucky Derby favorite.

Trained by Richard Mandella, Omaha Beach earned an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint next month over the same track. The colt doesn't have a lot of experience as a sprinter, however.

"I'm going to drink that big bottle of Champagne and think it over," Mandella said in the winner's circle.

Urged on by Mike Smith's left-handed whip, Omaha Beach hooked up with pacesetter Shancelot past mid-stretch and they dueled to the finish in front of 7,466.

Omaha Beach ran six furlongs in 1:08.79 and paid $7.20, $2.40 and $2.10 at 5-2 odds. It was the colt's fourth straight win and first since the Arkansas Derby on April 13.

Shancelot returned $2.10 and $2.10, while Flagstaff was another 2 1/2 lengths back in third and paid $2.10 to show in the six-horse field.

Mandella said that besides the BC Sprint, the BC Mile and the BC Classic are also under consideration for Omaha Beach.

Smith called Omaha Beach a throwback to the kind of classic horses that can race anywhere from three-quarters of a mile to 1 1/4 miles.

"He's extremely fast and he's got tremendous stamina," Smith said. "When you need him to be quick, he is. He can do it all."

The colt was the favorite for the Kentucky Derby in May, but he was found to have an entrapped epiglottis that forced him out of the race. He later had throat surgery.

The colt was set to return sooner, but a virus kept him from running at Del Mar. Then he was going to run in Kentucky, but a workout leading up to the race didn't go well, so Mandella changed plans yet again.

Seeing nothing else suitable, the Hall of Fame trainer kept Omaha Beach at his home track for the Grade 1 race.

"I'm just very relieved to have him back," Mandella said.

Earlier in the day, about 50 workers and supporters of horse racing rallied outside the track's main entrance.

They toted signs expressing their love of horses and support for the jobs and lifestyle the industry provides in California. Passing motorists honked and waved in support.

Protesters have trod the same ground in recent months to criticize the deaths of 32 horses at the track since December and urge that the sport be abolished. However, none of them was among the pro-racing crowd at the rally, where a five-piece band played and trainer Doug O'Neill delivered tacos for lunch.

"Just want to be a voice of how proud we are of our horses and our jobs and our lives," said O'Neill, who trained Kentucky Derby winners I'll Have Another in 2012 and Nyquist in 2016. "Trainers, grooms, hotwalkers, exercise riders, we've chose this as our career. It's very important to keep our voice very much alive and at the forefront."

O'Neill said he expects more such rallies or as he called them "celebrations."

"There's so many workers both frontside and backside that just feel paralyzed," he said. "Having these kind of celebrations where we can all talk together and be with each other and really show that we are truly the backbone of the business, this is the reality, the love, the passion."

O'Neill and others holding signs expressed dismay that protesters have been heard more loudly than those who participate daily in the industry.

"We know what our issues are," said Christine Sanchez of Lake Forest, who has owned racehorses and is now a breeder. "We're not just sitting back."

James Corral, a retired jockey who rode 11 years on the Southern California circuit, said he wishes the protesters would better educate themselves on the issues.

"I would like them to know a lot more before they announce and promote," he said.

Dallas Keen, a 62-year-old trainer who has been involved in racing for most of his life, said he supports the reforms instituted by The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita.

"People are being extra cautious now as maybe they weren't before," he said. "These horses get the best life any animal could have."

O'Neill said he believes reforms involving medication, veterinary records, and training have created positive results.

"I've been doing this over 30 years and I've never seen one thing of animal abuse," he said. "If there was an accidental fatality due to abuse, that's one thing. We got hardworking people that have chosen to care for horses for their livelihood and we're getting hit over the head. It doesn't add up to me."

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