Balladeer a Frontrunning Winner of G2 John Henry Turf Championship

October 1, 2023

Balladeer takes them all the way in the John Henry Turf Championship (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

Mike Willman/Santa Anita Press Box

ARCADIA, Calif.— Although he’s a three-time Kentucky Derby winner and was inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame in 2017, business has been slow of late for Victor Espinoza but in Sunday’s Grade II, $200,000 John Henry Turf Championship at Santa Anita, Espinoza, a 51-year-old native of Mexico City, looked half his age as he took no prisoners while aboard trainer George Papaprodromou’s Balladeer for the first time, leading seven rivals on a merry chase en route to a half-length score while getting a mile and one quarter in 1:58.94.

Fresh off a rousing gate-to-wire score going 1 5/16 miles on turf under Florent Geroux at Kentucky Downs Sept. 9, Balladeer, keen out of the gate and wide-out in the short run down the hillside turf to the dirt crossing, settled into a nice rhythmic stride as the field came past the wire for the first time and was bounding along to the far turn as last year’s John Henry winner, Masteroffoxhounds loomed dangerously, cutting Balladeer’s lead to a half length a quarter mile out, but Balladeer was far from finished and repelled the challenge while staying on gamely to prevail in a huge effort.

Off at 6-1 in his second career stakes assignment, Balladeer paid $15.00, $9.00 and $6.60.

Owned by Calvin Nguyen and Joey Tran, Balladeer, a 4-year-old colt by Distorted Humor out of the Galileo mare Golden Ballad, picked up $120,000 for the win, increasing his earnings to $367,290 from an overall mark of 18-4-2-2.

Trained by Phil D’Amato and ridden by Edwin Maldonado, Masteroffoxhounds ran a tremendous race and was actually gaining again on the winner at the wire, but had to settle for the place, finishing 1 ¼ lengths in front of Speaking Scout. Triple overlayed at 12-1, Masteroffoxhounds paid $8.60 and $6.00.

Next to last heading to the far turn, Speaking Scout, off at 7-1 with Joel Rosario, paid $4.60 to show while finishing a half length in front of Brazilian-bred Planetario.

Fractions on the race were 23.36, 47.41, 1:12.07 and 1:35.95.

With free parking and admission, racing resumes at Santa Anita on Friday with first post time at 1 p.m.

GRADE II, $200,000 JOHN HENRY TURF CHAMPIONSHIP

JOCKEY QUOTES

Balladeer and Victor Espinoza head to the winner’s circle (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

VICTOR ESPINOZA, BALLADEER, WINNER:

“He took the dirt crossing wide, but it wasn’t really important because I was able to control him without fighting with him or irritating him. When I crossed the dirt, we just went towards the rail and he was just going at a nice speed. I was just pleased with the way he responded to my command.

“He was strong all the way, even when the horses came to him, he would not let them go by. I just have fun riding these types of horses that just go out there and do their job.”

TRAINER QUOTES

GEORGE PAPAPRODROMOU, BALLADEER, WINNER:

“He ran huge at Kentucky Downs and he came out of the race great. This race came up and there was nothing else until Del Mar, so we figured just give him one more shot then give him a break after this, so it worked out perfectly.

“At the three-eighths I saw Maldonado (Masteroffoxhounds) getting close, but I knew my horse and he had another gear based on the distance of his last race. He was fit enough to take them all the way.

“We won a lot of races with Victor way back and he’s back now again. He worked him at Del Mar and we gave him a shot. Why Not?”

OWNER QUOTES

CALVIN NGUYEN, PART-OWNER, BALLADEER, WINNER:

“This race was more exciting because it is a Grade II and he beat Gold Phoenix and we are really excited. Victor did a great job getting her to relax and all the credit to Victor and George. I was standing next to my sister-in-law and when he got out I was really apprehensive, but he had time to settle and just relax. I thought he was going a little fast, but he had another gear at the end, it was awesome.

“It will be up to George where we go next. We will see how he comes out of the race, this race came up a little quick and George said to give it a shot, so we will let him decide.”

NOTES: The winning owners are Calvin Nguyen and Joey Tran.

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