Pacesetter Strapping Groom, a $35,000 claim in May, captured the Forego Stakes (gr. I) in a 15-1 upset Aug. 31 at Saratoga Race Course, surging in the final strides to edge Jackson Bend on a sloppy track (VIDEO).
The surprising half-length victory came a day after trainer David Jacobson and co-owner Drawing Away Stable, who claimed the winner at Belmont Park this spring, lost their star ex-plater Saginaw in a breakdown at Saratoga.
"When you claim a horse, you always have high expectations," Jacobson said after his first Forego victory. "I always liked him going back to when he was laid up. Even back then I told my assistant, Frank LaBoccetta, I thought he was fast enough to win a graded stakes. Frank reminded me of that 10 minutes ago. Carl Domino did an outstanding job bringing him back, and he was in great shape when I claimed him."
Junior Alvarado rode Strapping Groom to victory despite drifting out through the lane as Jackson Bend launched a determined bid from his inside. But Strapping Groom, who appeared to be headed in deep stretch, came on again to get the narrow victory in 1:22.27 for seven furlongs on a sealed track.
Grade I winner Justin Phillip was well back in third in a field of eight.
Strapping Groom, a 6-year-old son of Johannesburg out of the winning Silver Deputy mare Something Silver, was bred in Kentucky by Kinsman Farm, which lost him in the claim. Strapping Groom has won three of four starts since the change in connections, all in stakes races.
Strapping Groom paid $32.40, $14.40, and $4.80, topping a $2 exacta worth $215 with 6-1 shot Jackson Bend, who returned $8.90 and $3.90. Justin Phillip was $2.10 to show while part of a $503 trifecta.
Breaking well from an outside post, Strapping Groom took the early lead from Fast Bullet, part of the 3-4 favored betting interest with his entrymate Justin Phillip. Strapping Groom extended his head advantage to a full length at the three-eighths pole over Fast Bullet while clipping off quarter mile fractions of :22.92 and :45.22. Justin Phillip, stalking in third, soon took up the chase for Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez as Fast Bullet weakened rounding the turn.
"After he put away Fast Bullet, I was pretty confident he was going to win," Jacobson said.
Jackson Bend, rallying from fifth under Javier Castellano, loomed into contention in upper stretch, angling off the inside for the drive. He passed Justin Phillip leaving the furlong pole and kept coming as Strapping Groom drifted out despite right-handed urging from Alverado. Getting straightened out past the sixteenth pole as Jackson Bend zeroed in, Strapping Groom regrouped to prevail under strong handling.
"He handled the track pretty good," said Alvarado, who was instructed by Jacobson to get the lead if he could. "Turning for home, I knew I would have something left. When I asked him, he made a great run. I felt him (Jackson Bend) coming through along the rail, but I knew I was close enough to the wire. I knew it was my race already."
Jackson Bend, winner of the 2011 Forego, turned in his best effort in four starts since returning to competition this spring after being injured in a training accident prior to last year's Forego.
"He gave me his best effort," Castellano said. "I'm very satisfied with the way he did it. Unfortunately we got second place. I think he ran huge."
It was three lengths back to a weakening Justin Phillip, the Alfred G. Vanderbilt (gr. I) winner at Saratoga Aug. 4 for trainer Steve Asmussen and Zayat Stables. Lea was fourth, followed by Sage Valley, Javerre, Fast Bullet, and Golddigger's Boy. Saratoga Snacks cratched.
Strapping Groom was fifth in his only prior graded stakes try, the James Marvin Stakes (gr. III) July 19 at Saratoga. Earning $300,000 for the Forego victory, the chestnut horse improved his career mark to 8-5-1 in 22 races with earnings of $626,713. He was coming off a 1 3/4-length win in Saratoga's restricted Kid Russell Stakes Aug. 12 at 6 1/2 furlongs.