SARATOGA SPRINGS — The longest shot on the board took the shortest route to victory in the Grade I A.G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.
Sent off at odds of 34-1, Lexitonian and jockey Jose Lezcano broke from the No. 1 post and hugged the rail all the way around the track to catch Special Reserve and win by a half-length.
It was the first victory of any kind for Lexitonian since May 29 of last year, and first graded stakes since May 19 of 2019.
The Vanderbilt win also gave trainer Jack Sisterson, the young former assistant to Doug O’Neill, a Grade I score at Saratoga for the second year in a row. His filly Vexatious beat Midnight Bisou by a length in the Personal Ensign on Travers Day last year.
“Growing up, this sport was a passion of mine and now it’s a livelihood,” Sisterson said. “I’m speechless. To be up here on a stage like today and even to compete in a race like this is very humbling.
“I have to give Lexitonian a ton of credit. He ran in the Met Mile and he was eased. You’d think a horse that was eased and thrown in some clunkers, you’d sit back and think, ‘Let’s drop him down a grade and give him a confidence builder.’ But I’ve run him in every Grade I and been hard on him, and this is how he responds today.”
Mischevious Alex, who won the Grade I Carter before finishing third in the Met Mile, was the 7-5 post favorite, but he faded to eighth in the nine-horse Vanderbilt field.
Special Reserve and jockey Joel Rosario struck to the front from the No. 9 post in the early stages of the six-furlong race and found themselves in a duel with Lexitonian from the eighth pole to the wire.
Lexitonian showed just a little more finishing punch to get there first.
“He tries hard all the time,” Lezcano said. “He’s the type of horse that needs to be involved and sometimes he doesn’t break all that well and has to stay in the back. He broke well today. Joel tried to get away from me, but when I dropped my hands, he took off again and won the race.”
“He was comfortable,” Rosario said. “He liked to be right there. It’s a tough beat. I thought we got him, and then the other horse to the inside beat me.”
The popular 8-year-old Whitmore, who clinched a 2020 Eclipse Award with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, worked hard to finish third a length and a quarter behind Lexitonian, but trainer Ron Moquett said the early pace wasn’t fast enough to set up Whitmore’s trademark closing kick.
“He brought his race,” Moquett said. “At 4, he was probably not as vulnerable to soft paces, but he’s the kind of horse that’s going to take advantage when it backs up to him, and he’s going to look like a champion, but he’s going to need a little more help on the front end.”
The Vanderbilt pre-race routine produced a funny moment when the New York Racing Association’s horse identification crew had to use the old-fashioned method of checking Whitmore’s lip tattoo to verify it was him.
Since 2017, foals born in North America have had microchips implanted for ID purposes; Whitmore was foaled way back in 2015.
“They’re not used to that; it seems like he’s still on dial-up, and they’re already at high-def wifi,” Moquett said with a laugh.
CROSS BORDER AGAIN
For the second year in a row, the Mike Maker-trained Cross Border won the Grade II Bowling Green, at a mile and three-eighths on the Inner Turf.
This time, he didn’t need a disqualification to do it, as Luis Saez guided the 7-year-old to the lead at the sixteenth pole and Cross Border won by a length and a quarter over Rockemperor.
Last year, Cross Border was elevated to the Bowling Green victory when Sadler’s Joy was disqualified. Cross Border hadn’t won a race in eight starts since, but now has finished in the money in 22 of 35 lifetime starts. He’s 6-1-0 from seven starts at Saratoga.
“He’s a model of consistency and durability,” Maker said. “Hopefully, we have another couple of years with him.”
“He loves it here,” Saez said. “This is a special horse that I love riding. He always tries hard. Today, he ran huge. It set up perfect with a good pace. When we came to the top of the stretch, he really gave me that kick and he battled. He always wants to give me everything.”
With the win, Saez completed a personal Jim Dandy/Bowling Green double. He was on Essential Quality in the Jim Dandy.
Rosario, meanwhile, finished second in each of the three graded stakes on the card, by a combined 2 1/4 lengths.
Maxfield, one of the top contenders for next Saturday’s Whitney, breezed out of the gate and covered five furlongs in 1:01.61 with a workmate, the 3-year-old maiden winner Business Model, on Saturday morning.
“I just wanted the company to take him to the wire,” trainer Brendan Walsh told the New York Racing Association. “I think the best part of it was the gallop-out from the wire to an eighth out. He’s doing good. I couldn’t ask for more.”
Maxfield has lost just once in eight career starts, a third to Idol in the Santa Anita Handicap this season.
Happy Saver, who experienced the first loss of his six-race career last time out with a third to Max Player in the Suburban, breezed a half-mile with Dr Post in 49.25. Trainer Todd Pletcher said Happy Saver and Dr Post would both also be considered for the Grade I Pacific Classic on Aug. 21.
“We’ll see how he [Happy Saver] bounces out of it,” Pletcher said. I haven’t quite decided on the Whitney yet.”
Jackie’s Warrior returns to the track where he won the first graded stakes of his career when he runs in the Grade II Amsterdam in Sunday’s feature.
In fact, Jackie’s Warrior backed up his victory in the Grade II Saratoga Special by winning the Grade I Hopeful on closing day of the 2020 Saratoga meet.
Those races came in the midst of a four-race winning streak to start his career before Jackie’s Warrior finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
In 2021, he won the Grade II Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day and is coming off a second by a neck to Drain the Clock in the Grade I Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes Day.
Despite the loss, Jackie’s Warrior is the 6-5 morning-line favorite for the Amsterdam, and Drain the Clock, whose only loss in five starts this season was a second in the Grade II Fountain of Youth, is 2-1.
“We always thought he had more to give, but until you see it you don’t know for sure, and the Woody Stephens was definitely his breakout race,” trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. told the New York Racing Association. “He earned his respect that day and beat a game horse in Jackie’s Warrior. He’s in good form and I think he’s going over there with a really good chance.”
Crowded Trade will get his first start since finishing fifth in the Preakness.
More from The Daily Gazette: