Quick Wit won this one by a grin.
It’ll go down on paper as a nose victory over 6-5 favorite Csaba in the Grade III $200,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame, but look closely at the photo finish, and the 10-1 Dale Romans trainee has to be smiling.
The race was originally a Grade II, but early rain took most of the grass races off the turf, including the Hall of Fame. That dropped it to a Grade III, but none of that was going to force Quick Wit to scratch out.
“This horse, he has form on the dirt. Last night, when we were talking about if it came off, we thought it might give us a better chance,” Romans said. “He’s a pretty versatile colt.”
The Sharp Humor colt had run once before on a sloppy track, his last appearance on dirt, in the Grade III Derby Trial in April at Churchill Downs. He finished seventh, back 271⁄2 lengths.
“He had a little more of an excuse that day than the racetrack,” Romans said. “He’s always trained well in it, and he had enough pedigree for it. I didn’t think it would be a problem. It was just a matter of whether he was good enough, and I thought there were some horses in here that looked like their form could move over to the dirt, also, but he showed up today.”
Jockey Rajiv Maragh was named to ride Quick Wit when scheduled jock Corey Lanerie missed his connection in Atlanta while flying from Louisville.
Maragh kept his charge a couple of lengths back from pace-setter Csaba, who was closely tailed by Skyring. In the final turn of the 11⁄8 miles, he guided him between the two for a head lead entering the stretch. Csaba and rider Julien Leparoux had a run left, though, and pressured Quick Wit throughout the stretch to the wire.
“When they hit the wire the first time, live, I thought we got beat,” Romans said. “When I watched the replay, I thought the horse never got by him. Rajiv did a good job, he kept him pinned down in there and rode him hard all the way.”
“My horse ran an awesome race to get the win,” Maragh said. “It was a very tough race, and he had to fight hard for it, but he prevailed in the end. I was just working my horse as hard as I could and trying to keep him motivated until the end. Fortunately, he held on to win.”
Csaba was 43⁄4 lengths ahead of third-place Daddy Nose Best, one of two Triple Crown horses in the field who are testing their form on grass, fifth-place Optimizer being the other.
Earlier in the day, jockey John Velazquez was inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame, but he did not initially have a ride in the race of the same name. Trainer Todd Pletcher had a main-track-only entry with Raconteur, and when the race moved to dirt, he named Velazquez to ride.
Raconteur, though, could not weave a storybook ending, finishing last of the seven horses after being eased in the final furlong.