Jose Lezcano and Lubash just let Johannesburg Smile go.
They let the whole field go, actually, trailing the other six horses through the first half-mile of the mile-long $150,000 West Point on Thursday, a turf race for New York-bred horses 3 and older.
Johannesburg Smile had gone through the first quarter in 24.40 and a half in 48.57. They weren’t overly speedy fractions, but he had no kick left exiting the final turn. It was a dash to see who would inherit the lead at the top of the stretch, which had just been dampened by a brief cloudburst minutes before the race.
Lezcano had saved his horse for the later stages of the race and guided Lubash around the outside of his rivals to the front, pulling away to a 13⁄4-length win.
“As soon as I picked it up from the break, he settled down pretty good,” Lezcano said. “After that, I waited a little bit to make my move. I had plenty of horse in the last five-sixteenths. I decided to make my move. He gave me an unbelievable kick today. When I asked him, he really accelerated.”
It was Lezcano’s second straight win, having ridden Plainview to a win in the previous race. He pushed his total for the meet to 24 wins, second behind Ramon Dominguez’s 40. Lezcano had 20 wins last year at Saratoga.
Trainer Christophe Clement took over training Lubash before his 2012 campaign, and though Lubash had lost three times to favored Compliance Officer in the last 12 months, Clement noted only one of those losses came with the 5-year-old son of Freud in his care. That was in the Kingston at Belmont in May, his first time saddling the horse for a race, and then he was just three-quarters of a length behind Compliance Officer.
Thursday’s win was the first for Lubash under Clement in his third trip out. In his last start, he jumped up in company in July to the Grade III Red Bank, finishing fourth but just 13⁄4 lengths back from winner Get Serious.
“I’m a very lucky man. [Owner Leonard Pivnick of Aliyu Ben J Stable] sent me a very nice horse in the spring, and he keeps getting better,” Clement said. “Jose took him back, we got some rain before the race, and they obviously went a little too quickly, and he won well.”
Compliance Officer and jockey Javier Castellano, the 4-5 favorite, stayed just off the pace throughout, as Johannesburg Smile set the pace with Street Game sitting just off his hip. Abilio was running just inside Compliance Officer, but he didn’t find a stretch run.
Minnie Punt and Lubash both kicked through the turn and Minnie Punt held off Compliance Officer by a head at the wire for second.
“I don’t think the ground was in his best favor today,” Castellano said. “Unfortunately, all the rain five minutes before the race made it soft, and I just don’t think my horse liked it much. He had a great position during the race, but with those kind of turf horses, when you get riding them, they spin their wheels. Unfortunately, today wasn’t the best ground for him.”