SARATOGA SPRINGS — The post-race celebration was so genuine, joyful and boisterous that even jockey Manny Franco couldn’t help but smile.
And his horse came in fifth place.
Golden Rocket, a former cheap claimer who was sent off as the longest shot on the toteboard, became a stakes winner on Thursday when he and apprentice jockey Jose Gomez won the Statue of Liberty Division of the New York Stallion Series by a half-length at odds of 33-1.
It was the first stakes win ever at Saratoga for Gomez, and a huge victory for co-owners Chad Anshelewitz and Robert Lambe, who claimed Golden Rocket for $16,000 out of a race at Monmouth Park on June 3.
“We claimed her for 16, we knew she was New York-bred, we got her in the barn and saw she was alright,” Anshelewitz said. “We ran her in a starter [allowance]. We asked permission to come up. We wanted to make sure she was [stakes] caliber. Proved that, obviously.”
“They picked her up to run her here,” said Mike Farro, assistant trainer to his wife, Patricia. “They said as soon as we got her, they were going to try to run her here. My wife is back home. She’s probably trying to call me. She’s probably glowing like a worm. This is awesome. I’ve won a couple races here, but this is awesome.”
Gomez, a highly regarded apprentice who drew praise for his work during the Belmont Park spring/summer meet, won his fifth race of the Saratoga meet, but this one meant a little more, since it came in a stakes race.
“I feel great. I feel super happy,” he said. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given and thankful to all the connections, my agent, everybody.
“It’s a filly they claimed. She was a claimer over at Monmouth, and to win a stake with the longest shot on the board, it’s a great feeling.”
Golden Rocket, a daughter of Alpha, who dead-heated with Golden Ticket to win the Travers in 2012, paid $68.50 on a $2 win ticket.
Coupled with 26-1 Sell Something in the 10th race, the $1 late double paid $671.50.
Golden Rocket stayed inside early, then Gomez swung her four wide coming into the stretch.
She bumped Dream Central at the three-sixteenths pole but maintained her momentum past the leaders and got up just before the wire to beat Royal Dancer by a half-length, setting off a loud, jubilant celebration in the winner’s circle and on the track as the horses galloped back.
“I felt like she was always in my hands,” Gomez said. “I had her nice and relaxed, and she wasn’t fighting me. So I just tried to slowly make my way out, and in the stretch she got clear and just ran home.”
“I know her very well, and I know she’s going to finish, and we thought she’s going to give whatever her 100% is,” Anshelewitz said. “If it’s third, fourth, if she could win, she’s going to give you 100%, and the 100% got her to the winner’s circle.”