The first step was slow. The next few were just fast enough. The last few were too fast for everybody else.
Contested and jockey Rafael Bejarano didn’t so much overcome a hesitant start as they did adjust to it, according to plan, to win the seven-furlong Grade I Test at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.
Bejarano had been instructed to go ahead and assume the lead if Contested timed the break perfectly, but otherwise, let a few of them go, stalk the leaders and pounce coming off the turn.
They carried out Plan B to perfection to win the second Grade I of Contested’s seven-race career.
“My horse broke a little slow, but I knew [Gypsy Robin] and the other horse [Ullapool] were going to go to the lead,” Bejarano said. “I just tried to figure it out and get my horse in good position. When we came to the stretch, the race was done.”
“I said to him, ‘You’ve got to play the break. If you catch a flyer, you can actually go. If you get away slowly, just put her in a comfortable, clean spot,’ ” said Jimmy Barnes, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who was in California. “And he did.”
Ullapool, ridden by Joel Rosario, got out of the gate alertly and ripped off very fast fractions, with Gypsy Robin in tow two lengths behind down the backstretch.
Ullapool, making her stakes debut, snapped off a quarter-mile in 21.49 and a half in 44.09.
She faded as they came off the turn, but Gypsy Robin, who went off at 15-1, continued on after Contested gathered her in at the eighth pole.
“I think she runs better off the pace,” Barnes said. “They were going very fast. I wouldn’t have wanted to have been up with them.”
Contested, who went of at even-money, finished the seven furlongs in 1:22.47.
“I had plenty of horse, and she showed me a big kick,” Bejarano said. “She didn’t stumble; she just broke a little slow. I didn’t try to rush; I just tried to get in good position. It actually benefitted me, because the horses on the lead were going very fast.”
Contested had a four-race winning streak by a combined 22 lengths snapped when she was fifth, 143⁄4 lengths behind Zo Impressive, in the Grade I Mother Goose on June 23.
At a mile and a sixteenth, it was her first race beyond a mile.
Back to a shorter distance, she thrived, and nearly doubled her career earnings with the $300,000 from the $500,000 purse.
The New York-bred Beautiful But Blue, making just the second start of her 10-race career in open company, came on strong to make things interesting for Gypsy Robin, but the daughter of Daaher stuck it out to hang on for second two lengths behind Contested.
“She was awesome. She let me do whatever I wanted,” jockey John Velazquez said of Gypsy Robin. “She broke on the lead, and she settled really beautiful.
“The other horse [Ullapool] went, and we were going fast enough, so I didn’t want to push to challenge her.
“She ran the way she had been training. We just got beat by a better horse,” said Gatewood Bell, who co-owns Gypsy Robin with trainer Wesley Ward. “She ran her race, which was good to see after that race at Belmont in the Victory Ride.”
Gypsy Robin had won three straight, including the Grade II Beaumont at seven furlongs on the Keeneland Polytrack, but was sixth to Emma’s Encore in the Victory Ride at Belmont Park on July 7.
Ward and Bell decided to take the blinkers off, and that seemed to make a big difference in the Test.
“I think by taking off the blinkers, she was able to settle beautifully,” Velazquez said. “We just got beat by a better horse today; she ran a gutsy race to hang on for second.”
“She had a weird ship to Belmont and it was hot that day,” Bell said. “It was one of those races where you could draw a line through it. I was a little concerned about the pace when I saw [Eddie] Kenneally’s horse [Ullapool] go out there and set those early fractions, but Johnny did a good job by taking her back and getting her to relax.”
Book Review, stepping up to stakes company for the first time for Mechanicville native Chad Brown, went off as the clear second favorite at nearly 5-2, but made contact with the gate at the start and bumped Yara.
Then she got pinched and fell back to last in the 10-horse field, never to make any sort of threat and finished seventh.