The Big Beast got even bigger in a hurry on Saturday.
Rushing up on the outside, he caught front-runner Fast Anna in the final strides to win the Grade I King’s Bishop at Saratoga Race Course.
Just over two months ago, the 3-year-old son of Yes It’s True hadn’t even broken his maiden; now, he’s a Grade I winner.
To get some perspective on how meteoric The Big Beast’s rise has been, he won the King’s Bishop off just four career starts.
His sire had 18 starts, including a Grade I win in the DeFrancis Dash, before finishing last of 12 in the 1999 edition of the King’s Bishop.
A spectacular 61⁄4-length victory in an allowance race at Saratoga on July 26 convinced trainer Tony Dutrow to take a swing at Saratoga’s traditional Grade I sprint for 3-year-olds.
The Big Beast rewarded his confidence in a big way, taking the winner’s share of $300,000 for owners Alex and JoAnn
“I learned from [Hall of Fame trainer] Bobby Frankel that when your horse was really, really good, not to waste a race,” Dutrow said. “You need to make these races count when your horse is really good. We felt our horse was really good today, and saw no reason not to take a crack at the very best.”
Unraced as a 2-year-old, The Big Beast was close to breaking his maiden in March and May before finding the winner’s circle for the first time before a sparse crowd at Belmont Park on June 8, one day after Tonalist stopped California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid.
The Maryland-bred went off as the 8-5 choice in an allowance at Saratoga four weeks ago and wired the field, confirming for Dutrow that he might have a King’s Bishop contender despite The Big Beast’s lack of experience.
The Big Beast is in some ways still a big baby, and not only required the accompaniment of an outrider’s pony to keep him settled while he was saddled in the paddock, but also to chaperone him into the winner’s circle, a pretty rare occurrence.
“That’s the Beast’s pony,” Dutrow said. “He’s really a handful. But with these ponies, he’s nice, he’s calm.
“That’s the first time we raced him with the pony. He got loose last time when we ran up here. We schooled him in the paddock with the pony, and we felt like that was the best way to get him saddled uneventfully.”
Ridden by Javier Castellano, The Big Beast was an imposing presence on the track.
From the No. 7 post in the eight-horse field, Castellano opted to get The Big Beast into stalking position from the outside instead of gunning to the front.
They tracked Fast Anna and multiple graded stakes winner Wildcat Red, who skipped the Travers in favor of the shorter King’s Bishop, down the backstretch.
Fast Anna, another impressive allowance winner in July and the only horse in the field with less experience than The Big Beast, still led in deep stretch under John Velazquez after Wildcat Red fell back, but he didn’t quite have enough to hold off The Big Beast at the wire.
“Tough beat,” Velazquez told trainer Kathy Ritvo as they walked off the track.
Amsterdam winner Coup de Grace and jockey Rosie Napravnik, wearing the familiar red-and-white silks of Rock Porter’s Fox Hill Farms, went off the 2-1 favorite, but broke from the No. 8 post and couldn’t get the first jump on the leaders before The Big Beast did.
Coup de Grace finished third, a length and a half behind Fast Anna.
“Taking back was part of the strategy, to come from behind,” Castellano said. “This is the first time he went seven-eighths [of a mile], and we wanted to monitor it.
“Javy came to the paddock and said this horse will be OK today,” Dutrow said. “There are three inside of me that are going to go, and I want to get the jump on Porter’s horse, and that’s just what happened. I’m a good listener.”
“He was really sharp, and he ran great, but we didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver in the stretch,” Napravnik said of Coup de Grace.
Dutrow continued his terrific meet, running his record to 7-4-3 from 25 starts.
His tall 3-year-old, suddenly a sprint star, is responsible for two of those.
Twice, Dutrow has won graded stakes at Saratoga in a horse’s second start, but that was Grace Hall’s Spinaway and So Many Ways’ Schuylerville. They were lightly raced because they were 2-year-olds.
The Big Beast had to wait until he was 3 to get going, but now that he has, it didn’t take long for him to reach graded stakes-winner status.
“We anticipated this today. We thought we were going to see this today,” Dutrow said.
“When your horse is good, go for something really good. You have to admit, his last race up here over this racetrack was really awesome, and there was just every reason to go for today.”