In a span of 37 minutes, John Velazquez experienced the worst of racing and then the best.
He was thrown to the track and landed on his back when the filly Charmed Hour snapped her right front leg during the Adirondack.
Just over a half-hour later, he was in the saddle leading the colt Corfu into the winner’s circle after having endured an excruciatingly close photo finish in the Grade II Saratoga Special at Saratoga Race Course.
Asked when he lasted experienced such an incredibly compressed series of opposing events in one day, Velazquez said, “That doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been on the very, very highs and very, very lows on the same day, so . . . it doesn’t surprise me.”
Corfu, a son of Malibu Moon bought at the Barretts March sale for $675,000 by the Coolmore connections, backed up his billing and also showed some toughness by wheeling back in 17 days after his maiden win at Saratoga.
He was the 5-2 morning-line favorite, but went off at 6-1 as Candy Dandy, an impressive debut winner at Churchill Downs, was bet down from 3-1 to even money.
Besides winning on short rest, Corfu was the controlling speed for 6 1⁄2 furlongs and gutted out a late stretch duel with Sanford winner Wired Bryan to win by just about the shortest nose possible.
“I thought [Wired Bryan] certainly would have been one of the horses, if not the horse, to beat, and he ran a courageous race. We were just on the fortunate side of a head bob,” trainer Todd Pletcher said.
“He needed to improve for this race, and actually he did it,” Velazquez said. “To have only one race, to come back and hold on the way he did it today, I’m very proud. He held on, as fast as we were going all the way around, you’ve got to take your hats off when a horse keeps running like that.”
Corfu actually ran a faster first half-mile (44.02) in the Saratoga Special than he did on July 25 (44.88) while running three-sixteenths of a mile shorter in his career debut.
That appeared to be a good set-up for a stalker, and it was, for Wired Bryan, just not quite good enough.
Corfu led by a length at the eighth pole, then Velazquez went to the left-handed whip just outside the sixteenth pole as Wired Bryan gradually drew closer. Wired Bryan, ridden by Shaun Brodgmohan and trained by former Pletcher assistant Michael Dilger, who became a head trainer in january, rubbed sides with Corfu in the final strides, but was unlucky to not get a nose in front.
“I thought this was the scenario that might happen,” Dilger said. “I am very, very proud of our horse. He ran a great race. That was the closest thing to a dead heat that I’ve ever seen.”
“I thought he ran his eyeballs out,” Bridgmohan said. “I was riding hard and had my head down, but when I picked it up, I saw that I didn’t quite get there.”
Corfu thwarted Wired Bryan’s attempt to become the first horse to sweep the first two legs of Saratoga’s graded stakes for juvenile colts since City Zip did it in 2000.
“He came back with a very good breeze, and I felt like that was the answer we were looking for,” Pletcher said. “Luckily, he showed up today and had enough to hold on in a pretty fast race.”
“We knew from the mornings that he was fast,” Velazquez said. “That’s the way he won first time out. We were hoping that we would get a little bit of a break, though. He were rolling all the way around with the horse next to me the whole time. That’s part of racing.”
To top off his eventful day, Velazquez nearly tied his own record for victories on a Saratoga card, which was equaled twice by Ramon Dominguez last year.
A second-place finish by a half-length in the finale, on Amber Morning, prevented a sixth win for Velazquez, who is looking forward to Corfu’s future, while still feeling the sting of Charmed Hour’s breakdown.
“I hit the ground, but nothing is hurt seriously, thank God,” he said after the Saratoga Special. “I’ll be sore [today], that’s for sure.”