Big Dollar Bill followed his three rivals for about a mile and a half, then he had no one to follow and “he got a little lost,” according to jockey Chris Landeros.
By then, the gelding was in first place and just needed to find the wire, which Big Dollar Bill did to win the $100,000 Birdstone at the marathon distance of a mile and three-quarters at Saratoga Race Course on Thursday.
Races at this distance are difficult to locate on the North American racing calendar, but trainer Ian Wilkes said it suited his horse perfectly, since he has a combination of early staying power and a quick burst when it’s called upon.
“I’ve always wanted to run him at the marathon distance and I’ve always talked to [co-owner] Dennis [Farkas about] that, because you don’t know until you try it,” Wilkes said. “The reason I wanted to was because he’s a bit of a grinding horse, but with a great turn of foot. If you can have that turn of foot at a mile and a half, mile and three-quarters, that’s going to be a big benefit.”
The betting public fell in love with Hard Study, who was second in the Birdstone by 10 1/2 lengths last year, and sent him off as a 1-5 favorite, but the crowd in the grandstand and clubhouse seats had their horse in Big Dollar Bill, who remained comfortably in last place until the final turn.
A roar grew the length of the grandstand as he chipped away at the deficit, passed the three-horse formation of Hard Study, Carlino and Archanova in the middle of the stretch and won by one length after almost three minutes of racing.
“It actually set up nicely,” Landeros said. “I kind of caught a breather with him, but that last quarter [mile], he came running big-time. I think he just got a little lost when he hit the front, that’s why it felt like they were coming back to him, but he just kept going, he just hits the front and gets a little lost.”
GRADE I TEST
Well, at least Separationofpowers has had plenty of time to do her homework.
Away from the races for eight months since a fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, she came back with a troubled start and a close fourth-place finish in the Grade III Victory Ride four weeks ago.
That will be her preparation heading into the Grade I Test at Saratoga on Saturday as part of the Whitney undercard.
In a well-balanced field, Separationofpowers is the 7-2 co-second choice behind 3-1 Mia Mischief, who was a quarter-length behind her in the Victory Ride but was coming off a win in the Grade II Eight Belles on Kentucky Derby weekend.
“She had a terrible break last time and stumbled,” trainer Chad Brown said of Separationofpowers. “It was a tough trip, but she got the race she needed. Hopefully, she moves forward off that first start of the year and runs a big race in the Test.”
Brown will also saddle Alter Moon, who came to his barn after winning two straight by a combined 19 3/4 lengths at Gulfstream Park.
Five of the eight 3-year-old fillies in the Test are coming out of the Victory Ride, but the winner, Dixie Serenade is not one of them.
Runner-up Classy Act is the other 7-2 and will be cutting back in distance for the third race in a row after finishing a well-beaten 10th to Monomoy Girl in the Kentucky Oaks.
One filly coming late to the game is Minit to Stardom, who will be making her graded stakes debut but is undefeated in three starts by a combined 18 3/4 lengths.
“This will be a monster class/acid test for her, but we don’t have a Plan B,” trainer Al Stall Jr. said. “We’re not going to stretch her out just yet. We’re excited to see how she does.”
Besides the Test, the Whitney undercard includes three stakes on the turf, the Grade III Waya for fillies and mares at a mile and a half, the Lure for older horses at a mile and a sixteenth and the De La Rose for fillies and mares at a mile.
Brown has the 2-1 favorite in the Waya, Grade II Dance Smartly winner Santa Monica, making her third start for him this year after a busy 2017 season in Great Britain and Ireland that included a victory in the Group 3 Munster Oaks at Cork.
The Lure was supposed to mark the return of Voodoo Song to Saratoga after he went 4-for-4 at the Spa in 2017 alone, but trainer Linda Rice said they’ll likely skip it because of impending rain. The New York-bred could wind up in the Fourstardave or West Point, she said.
De La Rose long shot Thundering Sky has lost seven straight races, but won the De La Rose at 13-1.