Most horses that win Breeders’ Cup races display signs early on that they will have an exceptional career. It may start with an impressive early win at a bullring track that may propel them to running in the bigger events, or it is the high quality types whose career has been a steady barrage of competition at tracks like Saratoga and Del Mar. Either way there is a pattern and a plan that trainers follow when they know they have a ‘good one in the barn’.
It is in the very rare case that a seasoned professional who may show ability to win at a certain level, transcends that level to ascend to getting their picture taken in the winner’s circle at the Breeders’ Cup. The case for why this doesn’t happen as often may have more to do with trainers knowing where their horses should run and less to do with a horse just suddenly emerging one day with talent.
There are however occasions when a horse that has displayed moments of quality has been given the chance to fall into his or her comfort zone and simply peak at the right time. For followers of these types of horses they are generously rewarded with very nice paydays at the betting windows. The best example of this type of horse to come out of the most recent Breeders’ Cup is Mongolian Saturday.
In his 30-race career Mongolian Saturday has always seemed to walk on the fringe between taking down top quality stakes races and grinding away at middle level claimers.
Ironically enough his first race he ever ran happened to be one of those very impressive first time outings, a race in which he won by over 10 lengths. However it wasn’t in a maiden special weigh, which is the classification that a quality horse should run their first race. The victory happened to come in a claiming race. Right from the start Mongolian Saturday was put up for a tag, yet showed that he had the quality that champions have.
After that the long journey for the now five-year-old son of Any Given Saturday began. From there, Mongolian Saturday’s story became one of constant change an inconsistency. Yet within that inconsistency there was something there for astute horse players, who could see enough talent there to warrant a play and with every surface and distance change there was also healthy price to work with.
In the 31 races he ran in, he has run in 8 route races, 6 races on a synthetic track, and 11 turf races. In addition to that he has had 18 different jockeys while running at 13 different tracks.
The best stat of all may be that going into the Breeders’ Cup, Mongolian Saturday had never won a stakes race in 20 races. Here was a horse who was always knocking at the door yet never seemed to put it together, that is until he was entered in a $1 million dollar Breeders’ Cup race.
From the past performances the light seemed to go off after he ran in his last synthetic race at Woodbine racetrack in September of last year. After that race his connections seemed to focus solely on sprints preferably no more that 5 ½ furlongs in length. It didn’t matter so much if it was dirt or turf (which is also usual), what did matter was that trainer Enebish Ganbat kept the distance to a minimum.
As his 5-year-old season progressed Mongolian Saturday was showing significant signs that the light has gone off and his supporters were about to reap dividends. In the Grade 3 Parx Dash he came within a nose of winning his first stakes race at 51-1.
What was unusual is that in America once a trainer finds a niche that is profitable they stick to it. So if a horse is successful with turf sprint they stick solely to that, dirt sprint solely to that. That is unless they have switched to various trainers who are trying different things with the horse, but with Mongolian Saturday, he has only ever had 1 trainer.
Mongolian Saturday’s unique story is made all the more exceptional by the fact that his trainer is actually, Mongolian. Enebish Ganbat was a succesfull trainer in Mongolia who was convinced by his associates ‘Mongolian Stables’ (also Mongolian) to invest in the U.S. thoroughbred market.
When they bought the Any Given Saturday colt at a Keenland sale they were still inexperienced to the habits of American horse racing. In Mongolia they were used to training for distances much longer than what is run in the states.
In his post-Breeders’ Cup interview trainer Enebish Ganbat explains his learning process and suddenly it all becomes much more clear as to why Mongolian Saturday was such a mystery to follow.
“Five years ago I switch from long distance training to sprint training. In Mongolia we train for races that are 25 kilometers (15 mile)…To understand it I spend 4 years and last year I begin to understand, this is how to train, how to feed, how to breeze. It’s totally different, but Mongolian people are horseman people, we know about horses in feeling. You have to feel and contact horse very good. That’s all.”