Horse racing: C Z Rocket wins Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar

It’s not quite the magnitude of Seabiscuit, but owner Tom Kagele and trainer Peter Miller have done a remarkable reclamation job on the 6-year-old gelding C Z Rocket.

Kagele and Miller reached in and claimed C Z Rocket for $40,000 on April 30 at Oaklawn Park at a time when he’d dropped three consecutive races by a combined 37 3/4 lengths. He hadn’t won in more than a year.

But Miller, who plays the claiming game better than most, has worked his magic on C Z Rocket. He’s won four consecutive races since joining Miller’s barn, climaxing the streak with a victory in Saturday’s $150,000 Grade II Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar.

The son of City Zip sat third up the backstretch with Flavien Prat in the saddle, chasing slow fractions of 23.10, 46.04 and 1:10.06 set by Law Abidin Citizen. As the field hit the top of the stretch, C Z Rocket pulled up alongside the pacesetter and Flagstaff and the trio battled to the wire before the winner, the even-money favorite, prevailed by a half-length over Flagstaff.

Miller, leading trainer at the 27-day summer meet with 22 victories, gave all the credit to Kagele for the decison to claim C Z Rocket.

“Tom Kagele actually called me, he picked the horse, and said take a look at him,” Miller said. “I said, ‘Well Tom, his form’s bad right now, but he’s a runner.’ You could see he has run really fast races and I like old class horses that showed a lot of talent. If we can get (them) back into form and get them going in the right direction, they can run back to that form.”

Miller seems to have a knack for that.

C Z Rocket won his debut for Miller by 4 3/4 lengths in a $50,000 claimer on May 25 at Churchill Downs. He came back on June 21, stepping up into a $62,000 optional claimer at Churchill, and won by 4 1/2 lengths. Next came a narrow victory by three-quarters of a length in a $150,000 optional claimer at Keeneland on July 12 before his successful debut in Southern California on Saturday.

“This race didn’t really set up well for him, the slow pace,” Miller said. “He’s better with a faster pace and a little bit further behind, but the result was great. He broke well. Usually he doesn’t break very well, and he broke good today, and the pace was slow for a sprint. Flavien had him in the perfect spot, tracking them.”

Miller had praise for his assistant, Felipe Souza, who handles the horse, and was happy that the victory came on Kagele’s 50th birthday. Miller and his wife were also celebrating their wedding anniversary.

So there were smiles all around, especially considering the victory came in a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race. C Z Rocket’s eighth victory in 21 starts gave him an all-expenses paid berth in the Dirt Mile on Nov. 7 at Keeneland, where he’s already won a race.

“I’ll have to get with Tom and we’ll have to think whether we want to go to the Sprint or the two-turn Mile,” Miller said. “He has won going two turns in the past, but I think he’s probably better around one turn right now.”

Flagstaff outfinished Law Abidin Citizen by three-quarters of a length for the place and it was 7 1/4 lengths back to fourth-place finisher Blameitonthelaw.

Final time for the 7 furlongs over a fast main track was 1:22.25.

The victory gave Prat his 12th stakes victory of the meet, only one behind Rafael Bejarano’s record set in 2012. It was Miller’s fifth stakes victory of the summer.