One year ago, Michael House’s Big John B rallied off a solid early pace to earn his first stakes victory in the Del Mar H. (G2). Fast forward to Saturday’s $250,750 renewal, and the defending champion encountered a much slower tempo, but that proved no obstacle. Patiently handled by Rafael Bejarano, the 2-1 second choice went last to first to topple 9-5 favorite Ashleyluvssugar.
Also unlike last year, Big John B was going dirt to turf, and coming off a graded score in the July 24 Cougar II (G3) on the main track. Last summer, the reformed claimer earned his way into this grade with an allowance romp over course and distance.
But one aspect remains the same: with the Del Mar ‘Cap being a “Win & You’re In,” Big John B secured another berth to the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). The Phil D’Amato charge was only ninth in the Turf at Santa Anita, and he’ll need to improve substantially to factor in the October 31 edition at Keeneland.
Runner-up Ashleyluvssugar was most recently sixth when invading the East Coast for the July 5 United Nations (G1) at Monmouth. A further cross-country form tie-in could have been provided by Finnegans Wake, but he was scratched.
Still, Big John B deserves credit for a powerful closing kick. Anchored at the rear while Little Jerry carved out pedestrian splits of :24.47, :49.78, 1:15.93 and 1:40.60 on the firm turf, the Florida-bred gelding began to circle the field on the far turn.
Meanwhile, Ganesh, who had been tracking in second, made his bid turning into the stretch. That move was covered by Ashleyluvssugar, who pounced and put his head in front in midstretch.
But Big John B was gaining irresistibly. After collaring Ashleyluvssugar, he pulled away by 1 1/2 lengths and completed 1 3/8 firm-turf miles in 2:16.37. His final furlong came in a blistering :11 and change.
Ashleyluvssugar and Ganesh filled the minors. Considering they’d run one-two in the May 24 Charles Whittingham (G2), that gives the result a solid look for this circuit. And Power Ped ran another honest race in fourth.
Ganesh, given his proficiency over 1 1/2 miles in Argentina, probably wasn’t best suited to a sit-and-sprint. A stronger early pace, resulting in a staying war of attrition, could see him in a better light.
Big John B presents a fascinating pedigree question. His sire Hard Spun scored his signature win in the seven-furlong King’s Bishop (G1), although he did carry his speed well enough to be second in both the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). Big John B’s dam, the Doneraile Court mare Baldomera, was a multiple stakes-winning sprinter whose other notable offspring is Circle Unbroken, hero of the six-furlong Bashford Manor (G3) at two.
On paper, you wouldn’t look at this match and think “graded winner at 1 3/8 miles to 1 1/2 miles.” Perhaps Hard Spun is transmitting some latent stamina from his maternal line, featuring the likes of Turkoman and Roberto grafted onto a terrific Darby Dan family.
But Big John B has some heft further back in his own family. Aside from the brilliant Landaluce, his more distant maternal relatives include turf champions Theatrical and Paradise Creek.
Photo courtesy of Benoit.