Trainer Steve Klesaris waited a long time to get some distance for Sanford Goldfarb and Team Julep Stable's Happy Trails, figuring ground was the key for the Peaks and Valleys colt.
Saturday afternoon, only moments before a severe thunder and lighting storm spoiled the earlier sort-of-sunny day for 7,121 Belmont Park fans, Klesaris and Happy Trails got what they were looking for.
With recent rain having already switched the $113,100 Hill Prince for 3-year-olds at nine furlongs from the turf to the main track, Happy Trails only needed to negotiate the nine furlongs under Shaun Bridgmohan. The fact that he got a strong pace ahead only helped his cause, and he came home a 1 ¼-length winner over favored Traffic Chief.
"From the second I had my hands on this horse, I wanted to send him long," said Klesaris, whose ran at odds of 11-1 to win. "He's never really done anything wrong. He's run some fast races. He really responded today. Shaun (Bridgmohan) did a great job. There was a more than honest pace in front of him. He didn't get away all that great, but Shaun didn't get rattled. He's what you refer to as a `one-paced' horse. He doesn't have that brilliant speed, but he will grind you down."
Outrun in the early going, Happy Trails was kept on a steady course as Charge set a pressured pace of :23 and :46 1/5. Traffic Chief, three-wide on the turn under jockey Jose Santos, took the lead entering the stretch and appeared to have the race under control.
Happy Trails, however, was relentless and closed late and wide to win in 1:50 on the good track.
"He was real relaxed going down the backside," Bridgmohan said. "He was going along real well. He picked it up on the turn, and I took him to the outside. He had a nice finishing kick and finished up real strong. This was a nice training job by Steve (Klesaris)."
Happy Trails has now won four of eight career starts.
Chilly Roster was four lengths back in third.
Urban King, Lismore Knight, Silver Tree, Hypnotist, Kicken Kris and Christine's Outlaw were scratched.
Happy Trails paid $24.20, $7 and $4.20. Traffic Chief returned $3.60 and $2.80. Chilly Rooster's show price was $3.