The moves paid off, as Circular Quay outfought a stubborn Grasshopper in a terrific stretch duel to take the $500,000 New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO) by a neck March 8.
Sixth in last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Circular Quay finished no better than fifth in his three starts since then, including his latest loss, a 6 ¼-length setback Feb. 16 in the San Carlos Handicap (gr. II) on the Santa Anita Cushion Track.
But the son of Thunder Gulch was much more focused on this day, as he stalked the pace through the backstretch, made a three-wide move coming into the far turn to take the lead in the stretch, and after briefly giving way to Grasshopper inside the sixteenth-pole, courageously took the lead back under Garrett Gomez.
A Kentucky homebred of Michael and Doreen Tabor, Circular Quay completed the 1 1/8 miles on the main track in 1:49.80. Grasshopper, who fought on gamely under Robbie Albarado despite being pinned on the rail during that grueling stretch drive, finished 4 1/4 lengths in front of Reporting for Duty for second.
Owned and bred by a partnership of Will Farish, E.J. Hudson, and James Elkins, 4-year-old Grasshopper entered the New Orleans Handicap off of a 2 ½ length victory in the Feb. 9 Mineshaft Handicap (gr. III) at Fair Grounds. Unlike that effort when he came from off the pace, the son of Dixie Union grabbed the lead from the outset on Saturday.
Going off as the 4-5 favorite, Grasshopper posted modest fractions of :24.13 and :48.19 through a half-mile. Magna Graduate, with Edgar Prado aboard, sat just off of the leader, but as they entered the far turn he inched ahead. It was not long before Circular Quay, who had been sitting third, made his three-wide move to the front.
Grasshopper had dropped back a bit around the final turn, but put it into another gear as they hit the top of the stretch, engaging Circular Quay for the drive.
Going off as the 6-1 fourth choice in a field of six, Circular Quay paid $15, $5.20, and $3.80. The exacta (4-3) was worth $43.60, while the trifecta (4-3-6) with 17-1 Reporting for Duty returned $248.60.
Out of the Belong to Me mare Circle of Life, Circular Quay’s last win had come nearly a year ago when he took the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) at Fair Grounds by 2 ¼ lengths. He is now 5-2-0 from 12 lifetime starts, and has banked $1,480,434.
Seven-year-old Brass Hat was never a factor and finished fourth, 7 ¼ lengths in front of Magna Graduate. Silver Lord, breaking from post two, ducked in just after the start and lost rider Corey Lanerie. Encaustic was scratched.