Stop me if you’ve heard this before – an imported mare from Europe is tearing up the turf in Southern California. It’s a story that has played out countless times over the years, but if you’ve been paying attention lately, many of these transplanted stars come from the same barn. To say that the ascent of 29-year-old trainer Simon Callaghan to being one of the best turf trainers in California has been fast is a bit of an understatement. Since arriving to the West Coast from Newmarket, England three years ago, the young native of England has become one of my favorite turf trainers in the nation. And with all due respect to his fine male turf runner, Slim Shadey, it is his females that have really grabbed my attention.
First it was Dubawi Heights, whom he campaigned to be one of the top turf females in the country last year, for an ownership team that included his father, Neville. I was very impressed when I saw her tenacious second place finish in person in last year’s Beverly D at Arlington Park, and that performance was sandwiched by grade 1 wins in the Gamely and Yellow Ribbon in California. After her came Belle Royale. Also a winner of the Grade 1 Gamely, I was convinced she was an import with a huge future, before an injury unfortunately forced her retirement. Now, like clockwork, it looks like the former Richard Hannon apprentice has a new female star in the barn, as Qaraaba rolled to victory in this afternoon’s Grade 3 Robert J. Frankel Stakes at Santa Anita.
Content to trail after a slow start under jockey Julien Leparoux, the 5-year-old daughter of Shamardal out of the Unfuwain mare Mokaraba, remained in last through a dawdling three-quarters in 1:13.85. Generally speaking, last is no place to be when the early fractions are less the fast, but if you saw the mare, owned by Michael Tabor and Alice Bamford, in her first start in America, when she exploded in an optional claimer at Hollywood Park six weeks ago to win going away, you knew that she possesses a late kick that cannot be discounted. Sure enough, and very much like that first American run, Qaraaba turned on the afterburners and rocketed from last to first to win the graded stakes in impressive style. On the wire she was 1 ¼ lengths clear of favored Tiz Flirtatious, covering 1 1/8 miles on the Santa Anita turf course rated as good in 1:49.20, while winning in-hand.
Clearly Callaghan is excited about his most recent star. “We thought the world of this filly from Day One. She’s special. She’ll get better as she goes further,” said Callaghan. “You need to take her back and get her to relax, no matter what the pace is. Julien (Leparoux) did a good job. We’ll look at the Santa Barbara (Handicap) next (Grade II, $150,000, 1 ¼ miles on turf April 20) and hopefully the Beverly D at Arlington next summer. She’ll probably be better the further she goes. Distance won’t be a problem.”
In 2011, I saw a strong performance by Dubawi Heights in Chicago’s premier turf race for females, the Beverly D. This spring, I thought I had an early winner for the race when Callaghan told me Belle Royale was coming to Chicago, but alas it was not meant to be. Now the young trainer has me excited again for his newest prospect for the race. Qaraaba has a late run like a freight train … See you in Chicago, Simon!