Despite spotting the field a couple of lengths at the start, Main Sequence won his second North American Grade I race in as many tries Sunday.
Under jockey Rajiv Maragh, Main Sequence bumped the inside of the gate before leaving it for the Grade I Sword Dancer, but he quickly recovered to join his nearest rivals. He slowly worked his way into the 1 1⁄2-mile turf race for horses 3 and older, entered the stretch three back from pacesetter Imagining, then got up to win by a head.
“He broke slowly. He was a little unsettled in the gate, like he tends to be,” Maragh said. “He broke slower than I was hoping, but then he kind of just adapted good after that and everything fell into place, so that’s way behind us, the gate.”
Graham Motion took over the training of Main Sequence from David Lanigan when the 5-year-old gelding came across the Atlantic from Great Britain. He knew from conversations with Lanigan that Main Sequence had a habit of being anxious in the gate.
“There’s really not a whole lot we can do to change it, at this stage,” he said. “Last time [in the Grade I United Nations], he wasn’t quite as bad as today. He was a little antsy in the gate today; that didn’t help.”
Imagining led the field of seven through a quarter mile in 23.38, half in 47.15 and three-quarters in 1:12.60, which Motion said played to his horse’s favor.
“When they went a half in 47 and change, it really helps a horse like this when they go an honest pace in these races, and so often they don’t,” Motion said. “I think that helped him. It’s going to be tough for him, when he’s running against these kind of horses, if he’s going to spot them those kind of lengths, it’s going to be tough.”
Imagining was pressured by Twilight Eclipse, who was coming off a runner-up finish to Main Sequence in the United Nations, where he was beaten by a neck. Entering the final turn, Main Sequence started coming around outside of War Dancer. When they rounded into the stretch, Main Sequence was ready to run as Imagining and Twilight Eclipse slowed.
“I just wanted to get into a nice flow, and once he ran about a sixteenth of a mile, he got into his rhythm, his speed, and he kind of got into a nice stride from there,” Maragh said. “I just wanted to make the horse tell me when was the right time to go, and coming off the turn, he was like, ‘Let’s go,’ so we went.
“He was full of run. I know we’re catching two good horses, and they’re going to not go down too easily, but he was really full of run and it seemed like we might have just got there right in time.”
Main Sequence paid $6.10, $3.50 and $2.50. Imagining kept the lead until the last few jumps, returning $3.80 and $2.80. Twilight Eclipse was another three-quarters of a length back and paid $2.80 to show.
Imagining had won on the lead before, including in the Grade I Man o’ War at Belmont Park on May 11, but jockey Joel Rosario was a little surprised to be setting the pace in the Sword Dancer.
“I had a good trip. I probably thought he was going to be following somebody,” Rosario said. “But I ended up being on the lead. He tried hard. He just got beat by a horse who is really going good right now.”
Trainer Shug McGaughey said he was pleased with the way Imagining ran, but he may have been a bit distracted in the stretch run on the inner turf while passing the toteboard.
“He’s always been funny with his leads in the stretch,” McGaughey said. “I don’t know whether it’s the board or what. He ran a great race. He did all the work. A good horse beat us. I’m disappointed he lost, but I’m not disappointed in his effort.”