Ecclesiastic's last graded stakes win came in the 2005 Jaipur Handicap at odds of 8-1 when the grade III race was run on the turf at seven furlongs.
With Javier Castellano aboard Sunday, Ecclesiastic, a 6-year-old Pulpit horse, surged past the odds-on choice Weigelia and drew clear mid-stretch to win by 2 3/4 lengths in an excellent time of 1:07 3/5 on firm going. Wins have been few for the off-form Ecclesiastic, who has five victories in 34 lifetime starts and did not beat a horse in either of his previous two starts.
Jerkens decided a switch to turf sprinting was in order, and Ecclesiastic woke up with a four-furlong bullet drill in :46 on the main track May 21 at Belmont. After a last-place finish in the 1 1/16-mile Fort Marcy (gr. IIIT) on the Aqueduct lawn in his last start April 29, Ecclesiastic scored his third triumph in 22 turf tries. He earned $68,280 to boost his career bankroll to $324,358.
“Now that he’s older, it doesn’t seem that he wants to go long anymore," Jerkens said. "He might go a mile, but he’s got a lot of natural speed. I thought if he could stay in striking distance today, he would have a chance. I think his game is going short on the grass. We’ll see what races are out there for him.”
Ecclesiastic sat mid-pack for Castellano as they made their way down the backstretch with Weigelia, hustled to the front by Eddie Castro, carving out hot fractions of :21 3/5 and :44 1/5 with pressure from the outsider Retribution. Ecclesiastic rallied three wide on the turn to reach even terms in upper stretch, and the bay responded to urging to take command. Salute the Count found room along the inside for Kent Desormeaux to nose Weigelia, the 4-5 favorite in the field of nine, for second.
"I wasn’t surprised he was right up there," Castellano said. "I’m very lucky he broke good out of the gate. I just wanted to follow (Weigelia). I followed him the whole way. I could see he didn’t have much horse. My horse just gave me a great kick in the end. He was very impressive.”
The winner, who is out of the Rubiano mare Starry Dreamer, paid $50, $21 and $7.10, topping a $460.50 exacta with Salute the Count, who returned $12.60 and $4.80. Weigelia, who set the course record of 1:07.04 in his only previous start on the Belmont turf at six furlongs, was $2.40 to show.
Southern Missile, Museeb, Retribution, Carnera, Baron Von Tap and Will He Shine completed the order. Metro Meteor, Congo King and Silver Timber scratched.