Soaring Free, away from the races since last year's Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT), showed that he has lost none of his grit Saturday when he held off Mighty Beau by a neck for victory in the $113,300 Shakertown (gr. IIIT) on the Keeneland lawn.
The 13-10 favorite in a crowded field of 11 for the 5 1/2-furlong dash, the 6-year-old gelding Soaring Free, the 2004 Canadian Horse of the Year, successfully defended his Shakertown triumph of a year ago. The final time of 1:02 1/5 was three ticks off the course record he established in 2004.
The Ontario-bred Soaring Free, a son of Smart Strike
trained by Mark Frostad for owner/breeder Sam-Son Farms, forced the early pace while racing wide down the backstretch for Jerry Bailey. He inched to the lead approaching the stretch and kicked away to a sizeable advantage with a furlong to go. He was hard-ridden to the wire by Bailey.
"He is the quintessential warhorse," Bailey said. "He waits for the competition, so when the other horse came to us, he was ready."
Mighty Beau trailed all after breaking in the air but got into contention along the inside before angling out seven wide for the stretch run under Garrett Gomez to just miss.
"He had a tough time in the gate and he was in an unfamiliar position during the race," Gomez said. "His head went straight in the air in the gate. I had to settle him down during the race. But it was a great effort considering the start and he battled very hard at the end."
Parker Run, an 86-1 shot ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., was a half-length back in third. Parker Run lacked racing room at the top of the stretch, also angled out extremely wide for the final furlong, and was gaining on the first two in the closing yards.
"He is a young, improving horse," said trainer Steve Flint. "He had some trouble and if had gotten through he might have done better. Hopefully, he will make some noise later on this year."
Battle Won finished fourth, followed by Chosen Chief, Wrzeszcz, 7-2 second choice Pomeroy, Del Mar Show, Red Lightning, Relaunch Star, and Heckle.
Chosen Chief set the early pace, taking the opening quarter-mile in a sizzling :21 2/5, but it was Soaring Free in front at the half in :44 1/5. He completed the five furlongs in :56.
Soaring Free earned $70,246 for the victory and now boasts a total bankroll of $1,987,790. He has won 14 of 23 lifetime starts with three seconds. He finished fourth in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile, 2 1/4 lengths behind Singletary, after setting the pace on a yielding turf course. He won six of eight last year with earnings of more than $1.1 million.
"I was fairly confident this year because he has trained so much better and looks so much better," Frostad said. "He is such a cool horse. He knows the game."
The winner paid $4.60, $3.20, and $3. Mighty Beau returned $5 and $4.20. Parker Run was $13.20 to show.