HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., January 11, 2014 – For the team surrounding Hal's Hope winner Lea, there was a lot a karma involved going into Saturday's graded stakes at Gulfstream Park..
Although the Claiborne runner was regarded more highly as a turf horse, his new mentor Bill Mott thought that a dirt experiment was worthwhile, he had liked his prior main track runs that much. Further, he reasoned, let's see if we can get things going with a talented young rider that shifted his tack to New York last year and broke through on a horse called Will Take Charge.
Luis Saez won a lot of big races in the past year for several trainers while emerging as a rising riding star, but Bill Mott wasn’t one of them…until Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
"I think he’s a good rider, a good young rider. I think he’s going to be in the top echelon of the jocks,” Mott said. “I actually hadn’t had much luck with him up until today – maybe I just didn’t put him on the right kind of horses – but I’m glad we’ve finally broke through in a graded stakes.”
Saez just missed pulling off a front-running upset aboard the Mott-trained Tetradrachm in the $200,000 Fort Lauderdale (G2) won by heavily favored Summer Front one race earlier.
But he came through for the Hall of Fame trainer in a big way in the $100,000 Hal’s Hope Stakes (G3). The 21-year-old jockey not only posted a 3 ¼-length victory aboard Lea, a $6.40-1 longshot, he registered a personal milestone by visiting the winner’s circle for the 1000th time during his relatively brief career.
“It’s amazing! I thank God,” said Saez, whose most high-profile triumphs of 2013 came aboard Travers and Clark Handicap winner Will Take Charge. “I need to thank the trainers, the owners and my agent (Richard Depass) too.”
Making his first start for Mott and only his third career start on dirt, Lea pressed the pace set by Csaba along the backstretch and around the final turn before taking over at the top of the stretch and continuing on to a convincing victory.
“It went really well. My horse broke so good. We followed Csaba because I knew he was the horse to beat,” said Saez, who rode Csaba to a victory in the 2013 Hal’s Hope. “At the three-eighths (pole), I had a lot of horse and when I asked him, he ran. He handled the dirt really well.”
Jackson Bend, ridden by Javier Castellano, closed to finish a non-threatening second, a half-length ahead of Neck ‘n Neck and jockey Julien Leparoux. Csaba, the 3-1 favorite and defending champion ridden by Paco Lopez, faded to sixth.
Lea, who had previously raced on turf and synthetic surfaces for trainer Al Stall Jr., ran the mile in 1:35.30 after pressing fractions of :24.15, :47.03 and 1:10.87 for the first six furlongs. Bred and owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, Lea earned $60,000 for his fifth victory in 11 starts.
“We’ve had him about 60 days and initially we were pointing him to either the El Prado Stakes or the Fort Lauderdale (on turf), and then we started looking at it and examining his dirt form, which was pretty good. He’s got two races that are actually quite good,” Mott said. “Discussing it with Walker Hancock (of Claiborne Farm), we both decided to give him a shot early in the year on the dirt just to see what direction we want to go the rest of the year.”
The 5-year-old son of First Samurai had won an off-the-turf allowance over a Churchill Downs sloppy track last June and finished a respectable fourth in the Forego (G1) over a sloppy Saratoga track in August.
“I think the way he gave us good reason for trying that (running on dirt again). I suppose now we have to decide how far we want to run him. But he looks like he’s one of those unusual horses that handles turf and dirt,” Mott said. “
Obviously, there are some big races on the dirt. His dam (Greenery) ran a mile and three furlongs, a mile and a half, so he’s got a pedigree to run further. First Samurai is doing well and starting to kick in as a stallion, so maybe he’s got the pedigree to carry him nine furlongs anyway.”
The $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 8 will be run at 1 1/8-miles or nine furlongs. Why not try? Going in, the horse and the connections will be playing with house money. If that doesn't work, there's always turf racing.
“I was just kind of considering that,” Mott said through a broad smile. “We’ll have to talk to the owners about that."