Pegasus World Cup: the story of Sleepy Eyes Todd and his expat Mexican trainer

Horse Racing Miguel Angel Silva trainer of Sleepy Eyes Todd
Miguel Angel Silva: trains Pegasus World Cup contender Sleepy Eyes Todd. Photo: Gulfstream Park

By David Joseph/Gulfstream Park media

USA: Some 12 months after trainer Miguel Angel Silva first thought Sleepy Eyes Todd ought to be considered for the $3 million Pegasus World Cup, he is preparing his star for the fifth running of the race on Saturday [Jan 23] at Gulfstream Park.

It is something of a better-late-than-never scenario for Silva and the five-year-old son of Paddy O’Prado, who is owned by David Cobb’s Thumbs Up Stable.

By late 2019, Silva, 45, was confident that Sleepy Eyes Todd was a graded-stakes calibre horse after he came back from a five-month injury layoff to win three of four starts. 

The sole defeat was second place to Owendale in the Oklahoma Derby, where one of the horses behind was Mucho Gusto, who went on to win the 2020 Pegasus. 

Silva said he called to see if Sleepy Eyes Todd might be invited to the big show. “We were trying to get in but it was too late, I guess, and, we didn’t have the earnings to get into the race,” Silva recalls. “Finally this year it’s a dream come true.”

Sleepy Eyes Todd added to his resumé in 2020, winning four stakes at different tracks and earning $540,760. The most recent of his wins was a half-length victory over Firenze Fire in the Mr. Prospector over 7f on December 19 at Gulfstream Park. 

He ran eight times altogether in 2020 – at eight different tracks – and he is eight-for-15 lifetime.  “The horse has been great,” says Silva.

“He’s a sound horse. He’s beautiful, he is easy to manage. He lets you have fun. At the end of the day we are in this business to have fun. This kind of horse gives you all that.”

Silva grew up in Mexico, where his father, also named Miguel Silva, was a famous trainer. After graduating from college with a degree in accounting, Silva entered the corporate world. It didn’t take him long to realize he wanted to return to horses and racing.

Horse Racing Sleepy Eyes Todd
Sleepy Eyes Todd holds Firenze Fire to win the Mr. Prospector at Pegasus venue Gulfstream Park. Photo: Ryan Thompson

“I worked in some big companies in Mexico until I couldn’t take it any more,” he says. “I’m just not a desk person.”

Twenty years ago, Silva emigrated to the US and started working as a hot walker at now-defunct Bay Meadows in northern California.

“I was there for a few years then moved to Arizona and worked there as a groom,” he recalls. “I started climbing the ladder. I worked for the farrier, the tattooer. Helped the vet. Everybody. I was trying to do it all until I was able to get my licence.”

Silva launched his career early in 2009 with a one-horse stable. He acquired that first runner, Glitternmeporridge, by using his tax return to claim the gelding for $6,250. 

“We won several races with the horse,” he says. “From there it has been an amazing ride.”

Now operating with a 43-horse string on a circuit that takes him from Texas to Oklahoma, Arkansas, Minnesota and Louisiana, Silva entered 2021 with 722 wins from 4,209 starters. Thanks to Sleepy Eyes Todd, he had his best earnings year in 2020. Sleepy Eyes Todd also gave him his first graded-stakes wins, the Charles Town Classic and the Mr. Prospector.

After Sleepy Eyes Todd finished sixth in the Mineshaft at Fair Grounds last February, Silva decided to remove the blinkers. Since that equipment change, the horse has four wins, a second by a head in the Lone Star Millions and a tiring fifth in the Awesome Again. 

Silva said the blinkers made sense for a while, but that after the two losses it was time for a change. “He is too aware of what’s happening,” he explains. 

“He wants to see everything. In the morning when we train him he can go to the track and stand for 20 minutes and just watch horses go by him and not move one inch. He just watches everything and wants to be aware. It’s something I took from him and he was asking me to give it back. I did.

“I always say that we lost that Oklahoma Derby because he never saw Owendale coming from far outside. When Mucho Gusto tried to put pressure on him and passed him, as soon he was able to see him, he came back and beat Mucho Gusto. He was asking for it and I was a little stubborn.”

Sleepy Eyes Todd has had a different jockey in each of his last nine races and that list will grow again when Jose Ortiz rides him in the Pegasus. While Silva takes comfort that the well-travelled horse has handled many tracks under an ever-changing line-up of jockeys, he says the downside is the lack of continuity can be a negative. 

Since his past performances show that he has speed, jockeys may try to put him in the race early. Silva said that approach hurt him in the Awesome Again.

“We believe that we don’t have the speed to beat those kinds of horses in the race, so we wanted to be in behind,” he says. “We were too close in that race.”

Silva reckons the horse has matured and his versatility makes him effective coming from off the pace, the style he used in his last two races, both at 7f. In the Lafayette in November at Keeneland he rallied from far back over a very fast track.

“Then we go to Florida in the same kind of race and tried not to be in the lead because they burn out,” Silva says. “Save the horse and finish strong. That’s what we like.”

With a win over the track in the Mr. Prospector and more experience, Silva said Sleepy Eyes Todd is ready for the Pegasus distance and another try in a prestigious G1 race.  

“I love the mile and an eighth,” says Silva. “He already won at that distance and he performed really good at that distance. We’re just hoping that we have a different kind of trip. We don’t want to be on the lead and hopefully we can pick up horses at the end.”

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