11/04/2016 7:32PM

Tamarkuz gets his Grade 1 win in Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile

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Barbara D. Livingston
Tamarkuz, with Mike Smith aboard, wins the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile by 3 1/2 lengths Friday.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Tamarkuz was fed a steady diet of one-turn races throughout his career, but in his 20th and perhaps final career start, he successfully stretched out around two turns to win the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on Friday at Santa Anita, scoring an 11-1 upset over the likes of Dortmund, Gun Runner, and Runhappy.

The win was his first in a Grade 1 race, an important milestone for a 6-year-old horse owned by Sheikh Hamdan’s Shadwell Stable, where he will go to stud, perhaps quite soon. Though his connections wouldn’t yet say he was retired, they acknowledged that this win will take Tamarkuz to a new level “when we take him home,” said Joe DeSantis, the assistant racing manager for Shadwell.

Tamarkuz was always intended for the Dirt Mile. Shadwell also had pre-entered Frosted in the Dirt Mile, as well as the Classic, and ended up putting him in the Classic on Saturday. Both are trained by Kiaran McLaughlin.

“Now all the media knows why Frosted is running in the Classic. We knew we had a horse who would win the Dirt Mile,” McLaughlin said, laughing.

Tamarkuz ($25.80), with Mike Smith aboard, rallied into a hot pace and drew away for a 3 1/2-length victory in the two-turn mile. Gun Runner held on for second by a neck over Accelerate.

The race’s disappointments were its early leaders. Dortmund, sent off at 3-5, pressed the pace of Runhappy but tired in the lane and was fourth. Runhappy, last year’s champion male sprinter, set a quick pace for a half-mile but began a steady fade on the final turn and finished eighth in the nine-horse field, his second straight disappointing race since returning from a nine-month layoff.

Tamarkuz was fractious behind the gate before the start, then raced wide while toward the rear for the first part of the race. The pace, though, was to his liking – an opening quarter in 22.45 seconds, a half in 45.37. He closed steadily at the weary front-runners, got the lead at midstretch and was never in danger thereafter. He completed one mile on the fast main track in 1:35.72.

“This is so satisfying,” DeSantis said. “This is what he needed – a two-turn race with speed.”

Gun Runner pressed the pace while three wide, got the best of Dortmund and Runhappy, but could not stave off Tamarkuz. Dortmund seemed to show the effects of three straight losses against California Chrome prior to this race.

Tamarkuz, by Speightstown, was bred in Kentucky by John Gunther, was purchased as a yearling for $325,000 by Shadwell, and began his career in Britain before heading to Dubai and then last year to the United States. In six prior starts for McLaughlin, he had never won, but in his last two starts, he had finished second in the seven-furlong Forego to A. P. Indian and second in the one-turn-mile Kelso to Anchor Down.

“He’d been second, fourth, a little unlucky,” McLaughlin said. “We knew he had potential.”

“We thought he was sitting on a big effort,” DeSantis said.

The victory was the third in a Breeders’ Cup race for McLaughlin, all with horses owned by Shadwell.

“It’s a great honor. It’s fabulous to be part of that team,” McLaughlin said.

Tamarkuz has now won eight times in 20 starts, and the $550,000 he earned on Friday increased his career earnings to $1,840,444.

“He’s very well balanced. He should make a nice stallion,” McLaughlin said.

DeSantis said his boss, Rick Nichols, and Sheikh Hamdan would decide whether Tamarkuz races again. If this was his final start, it was quite the curtain call.