As the field of 10 three-year-olds barreled down the backstretch for Saturday’s Grade 1, $250,000 NetJets King’s Bishop Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, trainer Michael Matz admitted he was a little nervous seeing Visionaire dawdling along in last place.
But when the half-mile went in :44.79 and three-quarters went in 1:09.30, Matz started feeling a little better about his chances.
And run he did. Rocketing down the middle of the stretch, the chestnut son of Grand Slam surged to the front in the final yards and drew clear a 2 ¼-length victory over Desert Key, his second straight win at the Spa and first in a Grade 1 race.
“The horse has just one style of running and it can get a little nerve-wracking,” said Matz. “All these horses were real good. They all had big numbers. We just had a horse with a lot of heart and he proved it today.”
Under Alan Garcia, who scored his fifth victory of the day in the King’s Bishop, Visionaire was 10th early as favored J Be K and longshots Gentleman James and Golden Spikes dueled for the early lead. Sweeping four-wide on the urn, Visionaire moved up to fifth as they straightened for home and then hit another gear to cruise past his rivals in the stretch and hit the wire in 1:21.94 for the seven furlongs.
I’m So Lucky was a nose behind Desert Key in third, and was followed under the wire by Lantana Mob, Kodiak Kowboy, J Be K, Salute the Sarge, Silver Edition, Gentleman James, and Golden Spikes.
“I did not have a good trip,” said Garrett Gomez, aboard J Be K, who was coming into the King’s Bishop off two impressive graded stakes wins.
“My horse did not respond like normal. I tried to get him to move down the stretch but I never got the response I was looking for.”
Visionaire, an early contender on the Triple Crown trail after his fog-shrouded victory in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, made it to the Kentucky Derby but finished 12th behind Big Brown, beaten 22 ¾ lengths. After a short break, he returned to finish third to Pyro in the Grade 3 Northern Dancer at Churchill Downs, and then came from dead last over a sloppy track here to win an optional claimer on July 24.
“There was a little more pace than last time,” said Garcia. “My horse, he came flying.”
The victory was the fifth in 10 lifetime starts for Visionaire, who earned $120,000 for Team Valor International and who returned $15.60 for a $2 win bet. Matz, noting that his best distance appeared to be seven furlongs to a mile, said he did not have a race picked out for his next start.
“We’re going to enjoy this one for a while,” he said.