Utopia Wins Rough Westchester in U.S. Debut

Utopia Wins Rough Westchester in U.S. Debut
Photo: Coglianese Photos
Utopia wins Westchester in U.S. debut with Mike Luzzi aboard.
(from Belmont Park report)
Godolphin Stable’s Utopia, a 7-year-old Japanese-bred who had not started since winning the 2006 Godolphin Mile (UAE-II) more than a year ago, stayed strong on the rail, overcoming a rough stretch run for a one-length victory in Wednesday’s $107,700 Westchester Handicap (gr. III), {VIDEO} the opening day feature of Belmont Park’s 60-day spring/summer meet.

Under jockey Mike Luzzi, the Forty Niner horse broke sharply and challenged Happy Hunting from the outside early, getting the first quarter-mile in :23.20 and the half in :46.26. As Happy Hunting backed out, Utopia went to the rail and a new challenge came on the turn from 3-2 favorite Sun King and his jockey, Corey Nakatani, who had already won two races on the card.

Sun King grabbed a short lead between horses as Political Force came with an outside rally. The three horses continued a battle in close quarters through the lane, with Sun King taking the brunt of the bumping. Sun King, a tough horse who has tough luck, lost the 2006 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) to Silver Train by a head and Saratoga’s Whitney (gr. I) to eventual 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor by a nose.

This time, he finished third, but was placed second on the disqualification of Political Force, ridden by Cornelio Velasquez.

“I liked the way he galloped out,” said Sun King’s trainer, Nick Zito. “It was a rough race. He probably would have liked a little more speed in there. I wouldn’t have wanted Corey to ride him any other way. He kept getting banged around between horses. He tried hard. He galloped out better than anyone. Hopefully, the Met Mile will be next.”

As tough as Sun King was, however, the winner of this round was Utopia. Not only did he make his first start since March 25, 2006, but he came back after being headed to win in a swift 1:33.23. 

"He broke sharp,” said Rick Mettee, assistant to winning trainer Saeed bin Suroor. “And Mike (Luzzi) rode a really good race on him. They were going fast enough; he let the other two horses go by him. When you come back to win and get by a horse like Sun King, you have to feel pretty good about the effort – especially off a 13-month layoff.”

The $600,000 Metropolitan Handicap (Met Mile) on Memorial Day could be Utopia’s next start as well.

“We’ll see how he comes out of this,” Mettee said. “If we brought him back in the Met Mile, he would be eligible to react after such a big race like today and after such a long layoff. On the other hand, he’s seven and you are only going to get so many chances to run in a grade one like the Met Mile.

“If you wait for the Suburban (June 30), you’re going to hook Invasor in there and I don’t know if he can get a mile and a quarter against that type of horse. We’ll play it by ear.”

Utopia’s backers among the Opening Day crowd of 4,933 were rewarded with a $6.80, $3.90 and $2.60 payoff. Sun KIng returned $3 and $2.10. Political Force paid $2.10.

Evening Attire was fourth and Happy Hunting completed the order. Park Avenue Ball was scratched.

(Chart, Equibase)

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