STICKNEY/CICERO -- A cool and blustery November day served as the setting for the biggest day of the Hawthorne fall race meet. Today's ten-race card featured a trio of stakes races, anchored by the $250,000, Grade II Hawthorne Gold Cup. Supporting it on the card was a pair of $50,000 Illinois-preferred sprint stakes: the Blackhawk Handicap for open company, and the Pershing Handicap for fillies and mares. The wind and the sun dried the track out significantly from its muddy state yesterday, though it was still rated good through the entire race day.
Blackhawk Handicap: RECOUNT Rebounds Against Illinois Company
Three-year-old RECOUNT started the season hot. The Jim DiVito trainee beat Illinois-bred three-year-olds in his first start since winning the Arlington-Washington Futurity last September, taking the six-furlong Land of Lincoln Stakes at Hawthorne. He followed that up with three more sharp performances in stakes company, including a victory against older Illinois-breds in the Addison Cammack Handicap. He hit the road for his last two starts, finishing sixth in both, and headed back to Illinois for redemption.
This year's inaugural running of the Blackhawk Handicap drew a field of six, though trainer Jim DiVito scratched HELOOKSTHEPART was a trainer's scratch on race day. It was RECOUNT who consistently took money throughout the wagering on the race: he opened even-money, drifted as high as 9/5, and then went off at even money. LUV BANDIT, winner of the Lightning Jet Handicap last year, took little early money, but settled back at 2/1 by post time.
RECOUNT broke on top, and sent right to the front. CREATIVE ART set to his outside, and prompted him through early fractions of 22.42 for the quarter, 45.64 for the half. Turning for home, RECOUNT and the dogged CREATIVE ART were on almost even terms. At that point, however, CREATIVE ART was being asked. RECOUNT was still just crusing. Once Tim Thornton finally urged the favourite, near the three-sixteenths pole, the afterburners came on. RECOUNT drew away emphatically, and crossed the wire five and a half lengths clear. PURELY GIVEN, midpack for much of the race, finished well to be a clear second. CREATIVE ART held on for third, another 2 1/4 lengths back, and 3/4 length ahead of CREWMAN. LUV BANDIT, who never threatened, was another 5 1/4 lengths back to complete the order of finish.
RECOUNT is a three-year-old Illinois-bred gelding by Limehouse out of the Bold Badgett mare Lucky in Love. Bred by Barney Gallagher and Anne Gallacher, trainer Jim DiVito purchased him for $40,000 at the 2013 Fasig-Tipton October yearling sale, and he races in the colours of owner Doubledown Stables, Inc. (Richard Templar). The Blackhawk Handicap victory, Recount's sixth win in ten starts, brought his career earnings to $255,797. The win was his second stakes victory against older horses, and the fifth added-money win of his career.
Jockey Tim Thornton rode RECOUNT for the first time in a race today, though it was not his first introduction to the horse. "I’ve worked him in the past, and it didn’t work out for me to be able to ride him in the past. Luckily, today was the day." He got exactly the race shape he intended from his mount, to "make the lead, and stay there."
RECOUNT stopped the clock in 1:08.96 for the six furlongs over good dirt, and paid his backers $4.20 to win. The exacta with PURELY GIVEN slotted second (4-3) paid $9.90 for a $1 base bet. The $0.20 trifecta with CREATIVE ART placed third (4-3-5) came back with $6.74. A superfecta, with CREWMAN fourth, paid $20.96 for each $0.20 on the combination.
Pershing Handicap: PUNTSVILLE Finds Her Niche Sprinting
PUNTSVILLE won a pair of sprint races this summer at Arlington, and then tried stakes company again for the first time since her juvenile year. However, her two stakes tries earlier this year had her stretched out to a mile on the grass. Those sorts of races made sense given that she runs for trainer Michele Boyce, whose stars have typically done their best work going long on turf. However, PUNTSVILLE was well beaten in both of her turf mile tries. She cut back to sprints against state-bred allowance company this fall at Hawthorne, crushed the field both times, and tried stakes company at a sprint distance for the first time today.
The public wasted no time sending money in on PUNTSVILLE; she was 5/2 in the early stages. In true Chicago style, the public also sent it in often on her. By the time the gates opened, PUNTSVILLE went off the heavy 8/5 favourite out of ten horses who saw the starter. (Twelve had entered, but SUPERCEDE and BRAZYN APPEAL scratched.) DOLLY PEACH and KEEKER both took early money as well. DOLLY PEACH eventually went off 9/2, the slight third choice behind WILDWOOD KANTHAROS (also 9/2). KEEKER's support was mainly early; she went off 31/1, the third longest shot in the group.
The gates opened, and PUNTSVILLE broke well on top of the field. Rider Victor Santiago let her cruise. Speedster DOC GALORE sent past PUNTSVILLE, who settled in an outside stalking spot. WILDWOOD KANTHAROS, CANETTE, and KEEKER made up the next flight, about a length back. DOC GALORE ticked off the opening quarter in 22.13, but began her retreat through the far turn. This passed the lead on to PUNTSVILLE. WILDWOOD KANTHAROS advanced on the leader, but once the field entered the stretch, the grey turned on the afterburners. PUNTSVILLE clicked off the half in 45.60, found her next gear with a quarter mile to go, and galloped easily clear to the wire.
Approaching the furlong pole, ROSIE MY ROSIE finally found her best stride. She was trailing early, and had gained touch, but finally began to move better than anyone else behind the leader. ROSIE MY ROSIE accelerated past CANETTE, and then past stablemate WILDWOOD KANTHAROS. She never threatened PUNTSVILLE, but she crossed the wire a clear second, 3 3/4 lengths behind the winner. CANETTE gained ground late to draw on even terms with WILDWOOD KANTHAROS, and that pair dead-heated for third a length behind ROSIE MY ROSIE. DOLLY PEACH, CONGRATS HONEY, OUR DOMAIN, HEATHER'S ROSE, DOC GALORE, and KEEKER completed the order of finish.
PUNTSVILLE is a three-year-old filly by Cashel Castle out of the Petionville mare Deville. She was bred in Illinois by the S. D. Brilie, Ltd. Partnership, who also campaigns her as a homebred. The win was her sixth in eleven career races, and her fifth this year. It brought her career earnings up to $154,160. It was her first win in stakes company, though she had run for added money three times in the past. Her previous best finish in a stakes was a fourth-place finish behind Quality Rocks in last year's Arlington-Washington Lassie. Not coincidentally, that had been her only sprint stakes to date. All six of her wins have come between five and six furlongs, though she had found the winners' circle over dirt, turf, and polytrack.
Jockey Victor Santiago had the call on PUNTSVILLE, and managed her trip adeptly. "I just wanted her to break sharp, sit, and let them kill themselves [burn out on the front end], come from behind the pace like we did last time. But, today, she broke sharp, so I just let her there, and tried to settle." Santiago knew he had more than enough horse under him. “That’s why I looked back a couple of times -- I didn’t want to kill her too much. I just pulled up like I did before the wire. I knew she was running — whoever beat me would have to run faster.” Santiago had ridden PUNTSVILLE to victory in two previous starts this Hawthorne meet, as well. “She’s getting better and better every race. Today she was really tight.”
Trainer Michele Boyce agrees that PUNTSVILLE is getting better. “She’s going to be a very good filly. She’s going to go and have a vacation now, and then we’re looking for big things out of her next year.” Though PUNTSVILLE has found her best going short, Boyce noted that she tried the miles, because, “I’m a great one for distance training. That’s my long suit. I just am not a sprint trainer. But, after two tries at a mile, I said, ‘you know, Michele, maybe you ought to open your eyes and see this filly’s a sprinter, and make the best of it.’" She credited everyone who works with her barn with getting her into her current form. "I’ve got a super crew that works on this filly. It’s a team effort.”
PUNTSVILLE stopped the clock in 1:10.00 for six furlongs on good dirt, and paid her backers $5.40 to win. The $1 exacta over ROSIE MY ROSIE (9-12) paid $18.40. The $0.20 trifecta with CANETTE in third (9-12-5) returned $17.10 for each base bet; the trifecta with WILDWOOD KANTHAROS third (9-12-11) paid $9.12. The superfecta with CANETTE third and WILDWOOD KANTHAROS fourth (9-12-5-11) returned $92.60; the combination with WILDWOOD KANTHAROS third and CANETTE fourth (9-12-11-5) paid $96.32 for each $0.20 on the combination.
Hawthorne Gold Cup: COMMISSIONER Asserts His Classic Distance Prowess
COMMISSIONER has always done his best work going long. At age three, he finished second in the Belmont Stakes (GI), finishing just a head short of Tonalist as a 28/1 longshot. This year, he had captured a pair of graded stakes wins, in the Skip Away (GIII) and the Pimlico Special (GIII). Both of those wins came at a mile and three sixteenths. After an off-the-board finish in the Stephen Foster (GI), he got the summer off, but got one last chance to prove himself on the racetrack before going off to stud. He was fourth in the Fayette Stakes (GII) first off the lay, but that was only a mile and an eighth. He came here to Hawthorne, stretched out to the Classic distance, and hoped to close his career on a winning note.
The public had full confidence that he would. In the field of eight, COMMISSIONER was 1/5 early, though he drifted up to 4/5 by the time the gates sprung open. 2014 Gold Cup at Santa Anita winner MAJESTIC HARBOR, the only Grade I winner in the field (and at this distance, to boot), was 7/1 early, and drifted down to be the 3/1 second choice. Two other winners went off below boxcar odds: NECK 'N NECK and VALIANT CITY, who both went off 6/1.
The gates opened, and Francisco Torres sent MAJESTIC HARBOR along the rail. Illinois-bred VALIANT CITY broke well as well, and pressed MAJESTIC HARBOR on the outside to zippy early fractions for a mile and a quarter race: 23.50 for the quarter, and 47.34 for the half. COMMISSIONER, from his outside gate, tracked from about two lengths off the pace. The leading trip was well clear of the rest of the field down the backstretch.
Entering the far turn, MAJESTIC HARBOR opened up his lead. However, COMMISSIONER finally began to warm up. He eclipsed VALIANT CITY, and bore down on MAJESTIC HARBOR approaching the five-sixteenths pole. The pacesetter dug in, but past the quarter pole, he could not find enough. COMMISSIONER took over. NECK 'N NECK, midpack through much of the race, found his better stride as well, but just too late. NECK 'N NECK kicked on well enough to get out of the pack and run down early leader MAJESTIC HARBOR. However, COMMISSIONER was gone. The favourite edged farther clear, and crossed the wire 2 1/2 lengths to the good. NECK 'N NECK proved a clear second, 2 3/4 lengths ahead of pacesetter MAJESTIC HARBOR. STREET SPICE, taking up near the rear through much of the race, made a grinding rail run to finish fourth -- 7 1/2 lengths behind MAJESTIC HARBOR, but half a length ahead of VALIANT CITY. LAHSHAD, MISTER MARTI GRAS, and FORDUBAI completed the order of finish.
COMMISSIONER is a four-year-old colt by A. P. Indy out of the Touch Gold mare Flaming Heart, making him a member of A. P. Indy's final crop. Bred by WinStar Farm, he races for them as a homebred. COMMISSIONER is trained by Todd Pletcher, and was ridden to victory by Florent Geroux. This is Pletcher's third Hawthorne Gold Cup victory, after Fairbanks in 2008 and Red Rifle in 2014. It is Geroux's second Hawthorne Gold Cup; he rod Pletcher's Red Rifle to victory last year. The win was COMMISSIONER's fifth in fifteen career starts, and his third in graded stakes company. COMMISSIONER's career earnings tally $962,237.
Florent Geroux rode COMMISSIONER to victory. He had no concerns about the trip, and had faith in his long-distance abilities. “I wasn’t concerned about being three wide," remarked Geroux. "Sooner or later, one’s going to back up, and I’ll be two wide. By the second turn, I was two wide. He’s a very big horse. You look at his races…a mile and a half type of horse — at a mile and a quarter, it just took him a while to get going. Almost to the three eighths pole, he was just starting to warm up. When he switched leads, that was it."
It was Geroux's first race with Commissioner, but he felt confident about his abilities going into the race. "I saw him every day when I was at Keeneland. I knew how he trains, and I know how he runs," Geroux remarked. "When you get beat a head by Tonalist, in the Belmont last year…not many horses just miss in the Belmont and then come here to Hawthorne. It worked out good. It was good for the horse, good for the connections, and good for me."
The Hawthorne Gold Cup will be COMMISSIONER's career finale. His owner-breeder WinStar Farm plans to stand him at stud starting in 2016.
COMMISSIONER stopped the clock in 2:02.09 for ten furlongs over dirt rated good, and paid his supporters $3.60 to win. The $1 exacta with NECK 'N NECK second (7-4) paid $7.00. A trifecta with MAJESTIC HARBOR placed third returned $3.20 for each $0.20 base bet. The superfecta with STREET SPICE in the bottom slot rewarded players with $18.02 for each $0.20 placed on the combination.
All photographs courtesy of Four Footed Fotos.
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