Even-money choice Shaniko, given a confident hand ride by Rafael Bejarano, disposed of pacesetter Ball Four approaching the furlong pole and drew off to a commanding 4 1/2-length victory in the $342,500 Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II) at Turfway Park Saturday.
The Todd Pletcher-trained 4-year-old colt stopped the clock on the Polytrack racing surface in 1:49 3/5 for the 1 1/8-mile event while registering his first graded stakes victory.
The win gave Pletcher victories in both of Turfway Park's biggest races this year. He saddled Flower Alley to victory in the Lane's End last spring.
"Everything unfolded perfectly," Pletcher said. "We got exactly the trip we wanted to get. He punched when the time came."
Shaniko, who stalked Ball Four throughout, was unchallenged after getting the lead and earned an easier-than-expected win.
Bejarano said he wanted to set the pace on Shaniko. "I stayed in the second lane, because my horse doesn't like getting dirt in his face," he said. "I got him comfortable, and I knew I had a lot of horse, so I waited to the quarter pole to take off."
Shaniko, a son of A.P. Indy
-Sapphire n' Silk (by Pleasant Tap), was coming off an 11-length win over optional claiming/allowance foes at Saratoga Aug. 8 and has now won three of his last four starts. Overall, he boasts a 5-4-1 record in 14 tries. The winning purse of $221,500 pushed Shaniko's earnings to $371,610.
Marie and Aaron Jones own the dark bay, who was a $550,000 buy at Fasig-Tipton in August 2002. William A. Carl bred Shaniko in Kentucky.
Ball Four, who led by four lengths after setting a sensible quarter-mile pace of :24 1/5, the half in :48 2/5 and six furlongs in 1:13 1/5 under Julien R. Leparoux, held on for second while Silver Axe and Craig Perret finished third, 2 3/4 lengths behind the runner-up.
"Ball Four is a horse that we've used as a workmate to train our other horses, but the pace was perfect for him, and he goes very well for the kid (10-pound apprentice Leparoux)," trainer Patrick Biancone said. "The owners had no problem with me using him and so I stick with him. Ball Four was no rabbit. He finished second."
Grand Reward, the 122-pound high weight in the field of 10, faded to seventh after stalking in third place into the stretch.
Shaniko paid $4, $3 and $2.80. Ball Four returned $20.20 and $12 and rounded out the $136.40 exacta. Silver Axe's show was $5.80.
Salford City finished fourth, followed by One Nice Cat, Absent Friend, Grand Reward, M B Sea, Billy Allen, and Cat Shaker.