SARATOGA SPRINGS — A deep, tiring track? Check.
A full starting gate? Check.
A stiff challenge late in the race from a good horse? Check.
It could’ve been three strikes and you’re out for Mo Strike, but he handled everything that was thrown at him and pulled away inside the sixteenth pole for a 3 1/2-length win in the Grade III Sanford for 2-year-olds at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.
On a sunny, breezy, comfortable day in front of an announced crowd of 30,064 in paid admission, Mo Strike backed up a solid win in his career debut at Churchill Downs on June 19 — also against a big field — with another solid win that sets him up for a shot at another graded stakes later in the meet.
“I’m not going to say he’s going to go a mile and a quarter yet, but he’s a nice horse, and I think his biggest asset is his mind,” trainer Brad Cox said with a laugh, referring to the distance of the Kentucky Derby.
Mo Strike, who was ridden by Florent Geroux and went off at betting odds of 8-1, dueled pacesetter Curly Jack around the turn in the six-furlong Sanford, then had to fend off Andiamo a Firenze, an impressive debut winner at Belmont Park on June 3, at the sixteenth pole to win.
Long shot Great Navigator got up to catch Anziamo a Firenze by a neck for second.
“He broke super sharp,” Geroux said. “From there, I was in the clear right from the beginning. I let the inside horse [Curly Jack] go. I kept an eye on the nine [Andiamo a Firenze]. We were able to slow it down a little bit the second quarter, and when the horse came to me down the lane, my horse was able to give me another gear and fight all the way to the wire.
“I was very pleased with his effort. The last eighth of a mile, I felt the race was pretty much over and he was just keeping along nicely. If someone else was going to attack me, I felt I had another gear to fight them down.”
“I didn’t really know how the pace would set up, but I liked the way he broke and put himself right there,” Cox said. “He galloped out really well in his first run, he’s a pretty intelligent horse and I think he could stretch a bit.
“He showed some ability and fought off a really good horse at the eighth pole. That horse ran a big figure in his first race at Belmont, and when Florent asked him at the eighth pole, he responded and was able to get away a little bit.”
Geroux said the trip in the Sanford was similar to the one Mo Strike had in the race at Churchill Downs, when he ran against nine rivals.
There was a full field of 12 in the gate for the Sanford.
“I wanted to give him a good education,” Geroux said of the Churchill race. “I talked to Brad prior to the race, and just wanted a horse or two in front and let them do the dirty work for us and from there, we just took over. The margin wasn’t very big, but it was a good group of 2-year-olds that day. I felt like the runner-up was a nice horse of Todd Pletcher’s and gave us a run for our money.”
Some of the earlier races on the card suggested that the track was tiring and favored closers.
Cox said Mo Strike didn’t appear to have any issue with it, based on the fact that he was forwardly placed and was able to finish well.
“It’s early in the meet, but I think this track could be a little laboring,” he said. “I watched some workers this morning, and it can be challenging, but he got through it, so that’s an advantage moving forward.”
The next move could be the 6 1/2-furlong Saratoga Special in the next leg of the graded stakes for 2-year-olds on the dirt, but the Grade I Hopeful, at seven furlongs, also has appeal.
“He’s an Uncle Mo, it’s a Grade I, and it would take a lot of pressure off, but he’s a nice colt,” Cox said. “Oftentimes, this race can come up with short fields, maybe one horse scares them away. There’s not that many horses that broke their maiden.
“He did run against a larger group at Churchill. He broke from the outside and sat a good trip that day, but he had to fight off some horses that day, as well.”
“I think the key, especially on young horses, is about position and how well they can handle themself,” Geroux said. “He’s a very smart horse, he can break sharp and relax nicely. So, when you ask him down the lane, he has another gear to go on.”
PICK 6 HIT
After no one cashed a Pick 6 ticket the first two days of the meet, leading to a carryover of over half a million dollars, the wager was hit on Saturday for $299,368, with over $2.7 million in the pool.
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Categories: At The Track, Sports