Sam-Son Farm’s El Tormenta, a horse who has faced much hardship in his racing career, triumphed to a record-setting victory under jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva at 44-1 odds in Saturday’s 23rd running of the Grade One $1 million Ricoh Woodbine Mile. The win punched El Tormenta’s ticket to the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia, Cali.
Da Silva said El Tormenta was in “good spirits” when schooling around the paddock and the walking ring before the race. The sun was finding its way through the few clouds in a light blue sky.
Trainer and rider knew their competition was Get Stormy, a four-year-old chestnut filly who was coming off back-to-back wins at Saratoga Racecourse in New York.
Got Stormy’s trainer Mark Casse has had success in previous runnings of the Woodbine Mile, scoring back-to-back wins with super star female horse Tepin in 2016 and Court Approval the following year.
Although hopes were high with El Tormenta’s connections, much of the betting public put their money elsewhere. El Tormenta was projected to go off at 44-1 odds. The favourite Got Stormy would go off at 3/2 odds.
Woodbine track announcer Robert Geller came over the speakers saying, “They are all in line. Stand by for the start.”
The crowd roared as the horses broke out of the gate in a straight line.
El Tormenta found himself in a jam coming out of the gate. The horse was positioned on the inside rail behind three horses with little room to maneuver.
Silent Poet and Admiralty Pier set the pace early on while the others choosing to save their best gallops for the stretch run.
The betting favourite Got Stormy managed to get herself into a good stalking position heading down the backstretch of the E.P. Taylor turf course.
The horses mainly stayed in the same position as they continued into the far turn. Riders began to give their horses a nudge when the home stretch was starting to come into their sight.
When the horses reached the conclusion of the far turn, the crowd was sitting on the edge of its seats. It was giddy in anticipation of the stretch drive. Most of the crowd were cheering for its horses. Some trying to take Robert Geller’s job.
“C’mon Stormy, you got this,” some people screamed as she took to the lead. That scream became even louder when Geller announced Got Stormy’s jockey Tyler Gaffalione was gearing her up for the stretch drive, but when it saw El Tormenta coming to challenge Got Stormy on the inside, it went silent with the odd heckler cheering the favourite Got Stormy on.
While everyone’s eyes were on Got Stormy and her battle to maintain the lead, the connections of El Tormenta could be seen holding their arms up yelling, “Ride him, Eurico! Take him to the inside take him to the inside!”
Da Silva got the message loud and clear, setting down El Tormenta for the ride of the four-year-old horse’s life, riding the inside rail to victory.
After the race was over, da Silva could be seen waving his arms up in the air yelling “yeah” while giving El Tormenta a pat on the back.
Da Silva doubled down on his retirement announcement that he made earlier in the track meet during his post-race interview, “This was my last opportunity to win this race – it was the only one left,” said da Silva. “And this was my opportunity, and here we are. I was fully focused when he broke from the gate. I keep talking to myself, ‘Just focus on what you need to focus on, and keep faith in your horse. And never give up.’
“This horse ran so beautifully,” said da Silva, before closing with his signature phrase, “Good luck to everybody!”
El Tormenta gave trainer Gail Cox the biggest victory of her career and reaffirmed to her that the path she chose was the right one. “Oh, it’s huge. It’s a Grade 1 win and it’s a ‘Win and You’re In,’ so it’s huge.”
Cox explained the background story of her journey with El Tormenta. “Last year, I thought he was a sprinter. He ran shorter and he ran a different style. This year, every start, we thought he’d probably like to go a little farther.”
With a smile on her face, Cox said, “Turns out he did.”
Graceful in defeat, Got Stormy’s trainer Mark Casse praised El Tormenta’s win and talked about his own horse’s race. “I was proud of her,” said Casse. “I knew, this is a tough place to win. There is a huge home-field advantage.
“I was just a little worried that they weren’t going to carry her far enough and that she’d make the lead. But the winner ran very well, showed a lot of guts down inside. I was proud of our filly. I’ve lost no respect for her and I feel extremely confident that we’ll be right there in the Breeders’ Cup.”
Got Stormy’s jockey Tyler Gaffalione said he felt his horse lost nothing in defeat. “Mark and I were just walking around the rail and it’s rock hard, it seems like it might be the best spot on the track,” said Gaffalione. “The post position (post five) was good, we got a beautiful trip. She ran her heart out. She gave us everything she had. She’s an incredible filly.
“I’m looking forward to her in the Breeders’ Cup. I think she’ll be dynamite out there. This track is a one-turn mile, it’s a long course. She has a lot of quickness to her and I think Santa Anita will fit her perfectly. She laid it all out there today. Congratulations to the winner, they ran a big race. It took a nice horse to beat her today.”
El Tormenta was the record third Woodbine Mile winner for owner/breeder Sam-Son Farm, who won the race with Quiet Resolve (via a disqualification) in 1999 and Soaring Free in 2004. El Tormenta’s $91.40 win mutuel was the largest in Woodbine Mile history, edging the $91.10 returned by Quiet Resolve.
Under the terms of the Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge Series, El Tormenta will be entitled to a fees-paid berth in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile, which will be run at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 2.
Michael Balaz, son of Sam-Son Farm president Rick Balaz and an integral part of the operation, said a decision is pending on the winner’s Breeders’ Cup participation.
“I think that will be a decision that the higher-ups will have to make, and everyone will have to get together,” he said. “I don’t see why not after running like that.”