Returning to a track he's had plenty of success on, Gygistar snapped a six-race losing streak Wednesday in the $109,500 Westchester Handicap (gr. III) on opening day of the 2004 Belmont Park spring meeting.
Ridden by Joe Bravo, Gygistar, a 5-year-old gelding by Prospector's Music
, seized the lead from Formal Attire coming out of the home turn and rolled to an easy 4 1/4-length victory over Saarland in the one-mile event. Black Silk finished third, seven lengths behind the winner. The final time was 1:35 4/5 on a fast track.
Lion Tamer, the 3-2 choice in the seven-horse field, was fifth after trailing through six furlongs under Javier Castellano. Lion Tamer, who carried high weight of 119 pounds, had won three consecutive seven-furlong races, including the Richter Scale Handicap (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park March 6 and the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Keeneland April 10.
Gygistar, an Edward P. Evans-owned Kentucky homebred trained by Mark Hennig, won the Riva Ridge and Dwyer (both gr. II) as a 3-year-old at Belmont Park in 2002, and is three for four lifetime on the Belmont main track. He had not won since taking a classified allowance heat at Saratoga July 25.
He was coming off a fourth-place finish in the highly rated Carter Handicap (gr. I), where he was four lengths behind Pico Central. He won for the eighth time in 16 lifetime outings. The $65,700 winning share increased his career earnings to $668,485.
Breaking from the extreme outside post under 115 pounds, Gygistar raced closed to the pace set by Toccet, who tired on the turn after setting fractions of :24 1/5 and :47 2/5. Gygistar cruised up while four wide nearing the stretch, responding to Bravo's urging by opening up by three lengths. He strode out strongly while under a hand ride.
Saarland finished well for Jerry Bailey after rallying five-wide on the turn. Black Silk earned the third spot after racing close to the leaders, falling back and coming back on to edge the closing Jets Fan by a neck. Formal Attire and Toccet brought up the rear.
Gygistar paid $10, $5.30 and $3.60 as the third choice of the public. Saarland returned $5 and $3.40. Black Silk's show was $5. The $2 exacta was worth $40.60.