Albert Fried Jr.’s Giant Moon, allowed to dawdle with Cool Coal Man through pedestrian early fractions, out-dueled that rival through the lane to post a half-length victory Saturday afternoon in Aqueduct’s 97th running of the Grade 3, $199,334 Excelsior for three-year-olds and up at nine furlongs on the main track.

Giant Moon, a 4-year-old, New York-bred Giants Causeway colt hooked Cool Coal Man from the start on the fast track, but they were allowed to get away with a pace of 25.45, 50.69, 1:14.76 and 1:38.62. When they finally set down to do business in the lane, Giant Moon had the leader targeted and moved away to win in 1:50.90.

It was an emotional comeback for Giant Moon and his connections, as he finished fourth last year in the Wood Memorial and then was badly beaten in Preakness. He returned in May after overcoming issues with his hooves.

“It’s so gratifying,” said winning trainer Richard Schosberg, as Giant Moon returned $29.40 to win. “I’m so happy for (owner) Mr. (Albert) Fried. We’ve had all the patience in the world with this horse. This was a real team effort -- from the crew on the farm to the crew at Belmont. He had a phenomenal winter, healed up so nicely. The main thing is his feet right now look like the way when God put them on originally. Last year, after the Preakness, his feet got away from him. It was a great comeback.

“It was his third race off a layoff and he figured to move forward. He’s not an easy horse to ride because he has a tendency to back off the bridle. Edgar (Prado) is one of the greatest riders ever and I probably didn’t have to explain a whole lot to him the way it turned out; it was a phenomenal job. The fractions were an advantage to the two front-runners – I would rather see that than have him stalking a forty-six and three pace. It worked out great. Now, he’s a Grade 3 stakes winner with a lot of pedigree.

“We’ll take a look at what’s next. Obviously, we’re not going to come back in three weeks against New York-breds. We’ll stay in the handicap division and look at races like the Suburban and races like that. He’s gone Grade 3, now let’s step it up to the next level.”

Jockey Edgar Prado, who rode Giant Moon, was delighted with how the race unfolded.

“He was close to the pace and he had a really good break and was in position every step of the way,” Prado said. “I was very happy with what it was and it was only a matter of time. They pace was fine and I knew to stay close. I put on a little pressure, and I knew he would respond. He does everything so easy.”

“He ran hard,” said Tim Poole, assistant to trainer Nick Zito “I thought we were safe with those fractions; however, the other horse had him measured and we couldn’t get by him.”

Barrier Reef, who had traffic problems, was third as the favorite.

“He ran great; unfortunately the pace didn’t materialize like I thought it would,” said his jockey, Ramon Dominguez. ‘I wanted to go quicker. Twenty-five and change for this type of horse – that’s walking. Every bit of pace definitely works to his advantage, and we didn’t get that today. Having said that, the winner and the horse that ran second really came home strong. I feel we were a victim of the pace.”

Atoned, Alaazo, Real Merchant (CHI), True Resurgence and Kurbat trailed.