News & Barn notes

Vargas Guides Big Everest To Front-Running Score In Saturday’s $100,000 Cliff Hanger Stakes

May 27, 2023

Christophe Louriel isn’t sure if Big Everest is ready for graded stakes company, or if the 5-year-old gelding will get a mile and three-eighths on the grass, but after Saturday’s front-running victory in the Cliff Hanger Stakes at Monmouth Park both now have to at least be considered, he said.

Big Everest broke alertly from outside post seven, set reasonable fractions under jockey Jorge A. Vargas, Jr. and was a safe three-quarters of length winner in the mile and a sixteenth turf feature for 3 year olds and up.

By winning the $100,000 Cliff Hanger, Big Everest – who scored his sixth victory in his past seven starts and is 2-for-2 this year – earned free entry and start fees to the Grade 1 United Nations at a mile and three-eighths on the grass for owners Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Steven Rocco and William Branch. The United Nations serves as the supporting feature to the Grade 1 Haskell Stakes on July 22.

Big Everest has never gone beyond a mile and a sixteenth, however.

“I think it’s time to try a graded stakes race but I don’t know about a mile and three eighths. We’ll see. If there’s one place he can do it I think it’s here on this turf course,” said Louriel, the top assistant to Christophe Clement for the past 30 years.

Gelded over the winter, Big Everest won his third straight stakes race, his second this year. He has pretty much led gate to wire in winning six of his past seven starts.

“This went absolutely to the plan,” said Louriel. “After he won at Aqueduct (on April 15 in his seasonal debut) we felt he was short a work but he still got the job done. He has speed around the turns. I told Jorge Vargas that it’s a mile and a sixteenth and to make sure he kept something for the end. He is the kind of horse that can accelerate around the turns.

“It was a short field so we just tried to clear the field, go to the lead and try to slow things down. I saw 47 and change to the half and he was still on the bridle around the turn so I felt pretty good.”

In posting his seventh career win from 12 starts, the Great Britain-bred son of The Gurkha carved out fractions of :23.49, :47.34 and 1:10.78 to six furlongs. Smokin’ T took up the chase at that point but could never get to the winner. It was another 2¼ lengths back to James Aloysius in third.

Though he was the 8-5 morning line favorite, Big Everest paid $8.60 in what looked to be an evenly-matched field.

“This is the way he runs, so why change it now?” said Vargas. “I worked him last week at Belmont. I was glad they let me do that so I could get to know him. He worked well. He is a speed horse and I wasn’t going to take him away from his game. He likes to run into the bridle.

“The main thing was to get him to relax. I know he is fast. I know he can run fast fractions. I just wanted to have him content. He’s aggressive but he doesn’t get tired.”