Winning the $75,000 Thanksgiving Handicap for the second consecutive time was just as easy as last year's victory for Yockey's Warrior.
Co-owner and trainer Al Stall and jockey Miguel Mena said it was even easier.
Yockey's Warrior, the 9-5 favorite, pulled ahead at the top of the stretch and glided to a 2¼-length victory Thursday at the Fair Grounds.
“(Yockey's Warrior) is full of talent, and now he's getting more air, and that's a pretty wonderful combination,” said Stall, whose horse also won by 2¼ lengths last year in giving the trainer his first victory in the holiday event. “Before the race, he was relaxed and calm.”
Second favorite Chublicious, trained by New Orleanian Ron Faucheux and ridden by Jose Valdivia, was second, 3½ lengths ahead of Blue Wings.
The race was marred by the No. 3 horse, Mesoma, breaking down midway of the stretch. He had to be humanely destroyed.
Just seven horses were entered before Thursday. However, the No. 5 horse, 3-1 third-favorite The Truth or Else, and No. 6, Wyeth, at 5-1, were scratched. Stall said it didn't affect the race because “the players stayed in the race.”
Yockey's Warrior took the lead against Chublicious, the No. 2 horse, at the top of the stretch. Yockey's Warriors had a throat procedure in May, and Mena said the difference was obvious. The sound of his breathing was easy, Mena said. There was no big gulp for air.
“I didn't really ask him for much,” Mena said. “He just took me for a fun ride. I tapped him on the shoulder and he sprinted home and was an easy winner.”
Yockey's Warrior came off a six-month post-surgery layoff and won an allowance optional claiming race at Keenedland by 1¾ lengths. He also won that race last year before taking the Thanksgiving Handicap.
Chublicious, who had gotten nine of his 10 wins in 17 starts at the Thanksgiving Handicap distance of six furlongs, had come in as the 2-1 favorite. However, Valdivia, who has won the jockey's title at Arlington, shrugged when asked why it wasn't more of a competitive, two-horse race as some expected.
“My horse was just second-best,” Valdivia said. “No shame in that. We were turning for home, and it's never a good feeling when I'm just letting my horse run and I see the horse on the lead just kind of waiting for the rider's cue to go on.
“Miguel had him in a perfect spot, and when he called on him, the race was over. I had to work hard just to be second.”
Stall said he wasn't sure what's next for Yockey's Warrior, a 5-year-old who has won three of his past four races. Last season, he opted for a race at Oaklawn — which he won — after winning the Thanksgiving Handicap. This year's win has Stall thinking of staying home. The six-furlong Duncan F. Kenner Stakes will be run Jan. 13, the first day of three big race days in the meet.
“There's a race here in January, and I'm just not sure,” Stall said. “But we'll keep him here for a little while and figure things out. We were here in January last year, but we scratched because of (a muddy track).”
Mesoma was on the rail when he stumbled and fell. Mesoma's jockey, Francisco Torres, was too overcome to talk, just saying it happens in horse racing. Chublicious was next to Mesoma when it happened, Valdivia said.
“I heard him beside me, and I heard (Torres) holler,” Valdivia said. “I backed off, and I heard a loud crack. So, I guess the horse broke down.”