Last for the first half-mile in the 12-horse field, Just As Well rallied quickly with a big, looping move on the final turn to reach contention in the 1 1/4-mile event. He finished powerfully through the lane under right-handed urging from jockey E.T. Baird to run down the favorite Cosmonaut inside the eighth pole en route to a one-length win.
The victory aboard Just As Well was the fifth on the Arlington program for Baird, three coming in stakes. Baird won the $200,000 Arlington Sprint aboard Yankee Injunuity and also captured the $53,300 Diamond Ring Stakes astride Romacaca.
Gentleman Chester, with James Graham aboard, rallied for second by a neck over Cosmonaut and Robby Albarado. The final time was 2:02.84 on a firm course.
Jonathan Sheppard owns and trains Just As Well, a 6-year-old son of A.P. Indy out of the Nureyev mare No Matter What. Just As Well was coming off a fast-closing second to Parading in the Dixie Stakes (gr. IIT) on the Pimlico turf on the Preakness program May 16.
“I rode this horse for Jonathan at Keeneland (this spring) and he wanted me to get him to settle and make one run, a fluid run,” said Baird, who leads all riders at the meet with 51 victories and finished the day just three wins shy of 2,000 in his career. “He learned how to do that and it’s paying off. It was a great day and I am grateful.”
As usual, Just As Well showed no early speed as Public Speaker asssumed a loaping lead while pressed by Ordination and Cosmonaut. Fractions were :25.49, :49.89, and 1:13.90. Ordination soon dropped out as Cosmonaut and Thabazimbi closed in on Public Speaker, with Cosmonaut taking over past the eighth pole. But Just As Well was flying on the outside and Cosmonaut could not hold the imposing dark bay off in the closing stages.
Just As Well ended a six-race losing streak while posting his first victory since taking an allowance race on the Keeneland grass last October. The victory was Just As Well's fourth in 17 starts and increased his earnings to $360,325. The winning purse was $111,600.
“I’m happy for E. T. because he was a big part of teaching this horse to settle last year, Sheppard said. “He needs a longer run," Sheppard said. "At one time, we were trying to blow the whole field away in the stretch and he’s not quite quick enough to do that. He’s figured it out now and I couldn’t be happier."
Augustin Stable bred Just As Well in Kentucky.
Carrying top weight of 118 pounds, Just As Well was sent off as the third choice and paid $10.40, $5.80, and $3.80 while topping a $2 exacta worth $188.20. Gentleman Chester, who charged late for second for trainer Ralph Nicks, returned $16.20 and $8.40. The 7-year-old Cosmonaut, winner of the Fort Marcy (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park in May, was $3.20 to show.
My Happiness finished fourth, followed by Telling, Silverfoot, Thabazimbi, Public Speaker, Stream Cat, Embossed, Plan, and Ordination. Recapaturetheglory was scratched.
The Arlington Handicap serves as a prep for the $1,000,000 Arlington Million (gr. IT), to be run on Aug. 8.. The top three finishers earned free entry and starting fees in Million XXVII should their connections choose to run back.