A Couple of Favorites

Two sentimental winners took Saturday’s stakes races at Aqueduct, perhaps the most unsentimental of race tracks.

The grade III Bold Ruler was run as the fourth race; in a field of five, Jack Bruner’s Sing Baby Sing was the favorite; Allen Jerkens’s Le Grand Cru was the longest shot at 7 – 1, a fact that surprised the Chief. “I was surprised at his odds,” he said after the race. “I didn’t think he’d be the longest shot,” based on his win in the Grade III Kelso at Belmont earlier this month.

Then he added with a smile, “But I’m not a very good handicapper.”

Le Grand Cru won his first start, in March of 2008 at Gulfstream Park. Off the track for nearly a year, he reeled off three seconds in a row at GP; he got his second career win at Belmont in June. He’s run unsuccessfully on grass and has shown an affinity for an off-track.

“We couldn’t figure him out,” said Jerkens. “I was so disappointed in Florida when he couldn’t win those four times, after he broke his maiden.

“That last race [the Kelso] gave him confidence. He used to chicken out when another horse got in front of him.”

In typically humble fashion, Jerkens gave credit for Saturday’s win to those who’ve worked with the horse, citing the jockey, exercise rider, groom, and assistant trainer: “He got a very good ride. [Jose Lezcano] is riding him really good. The guy who rides him in the morning, Noel Wynter, is doing good with him, too. Efrain rubs him. Fernando, too.”

Following the win, the Chief reminisced. “They opened this place in 1959. I didn’t have a winner that day.” Prompted to recall his first win, he said, “At the old Aqueduct in 1950. July 4th, 1950. Woody Stevens was second. They raced here in the summer then. The place was beautiful.”

As was Aqueduct on Saturday, with the Chief back in the winner’s circle, once more upsetting the field in a stakes race.

Five races later, Unbridled Belle went to the post in the Grade III Turnback the Alarm. . Meant to be retired earlier this year, she was reportedly unsuccessfully bred and came back to the races, and in six starts, she’s compiled a record of 2 – 1 – 1, all in graded stakes.

Unbridled Belle raced once at two, breaking her maiden at first asking, and raced well if unevenly at three, making eight starts and hitting the board in four of them. She garnered national attention at four when she crushed the field in the 2007 Delaware Handicap; a month earlier, she’d finished second in the Obeah at Delaware Park, a race that she came back to win in 2008 and 2009. This year, she won by 11 lengths.

A second in the Personal Ensign and a win in the Beldame followed the 2007 DelCap, but never the most consistent of mares, she made few trips to the winner’s circle. She was a game second to Music Note in the Beldame this year, and she came into yesterday’s race the overwhelming favorite.

And she didn’t disappoint. She raced comfortably mid-pack until the top of the stretch, swung off the rail, took the lead easily, and won by four. The old lady—she’s six years old, old in racing years—still has it.

Following the race, trainer Todd Pletcher indicated that she’d head next to the Grade II Falls City at Churchill, for her final start before being retired. While she is clearly Delaware’s horse, she’s raced in New York often enough to have quite a sizable fan base here, and those fans were glad to see her get the win today—even if, at less than even money, she wasn’t a profitable wager.

Two stakes races, two sentimental favorites, one bettors’ choice, one longshot, one venerable and beloved trainer. The habitat of hardened railbirds, Aqueduct doesn’t often feature in happy horse stories, but on Saturday, the narratives laid themselves out for the taking, for the 3,600 who turned out on a warm, breezy, grey day in Ozone Park.

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