Critical Eye swept to the lead in the final strides to win Saturday's $250,000 Hempstead Handicap (gr. I) by a neck over Jostle at Belmont Park. The win marks the second career grade I victory for the New York-bred daughter of Dynaformer, out of the Dr. Blum mare Critical Crew.
Defending Hempstead champion Beautiful Pleasure raced in the lead through the early going while in her preferred position -- well off the rail. After an opening half-mile run in :46.16, the John Ward Jr.-trained entry of Beautiful Pleasure and Darling My Darling bookended the field, with the latter racing in last place, one length behind Critical Eye. Beautiful Pleasure continued along in front, leading Jostle by a half-length after six furlongs run in 1:10.27. Jostle took the lead from Beautiful Pleasure and held off a determined run from Apple of Kent before being passed by Critical Eye in the shadow of the wire. Apple of Kent finished third after jockey Richard Migliore lost his whip in deep stretch. Serra Lake, Darling My Darling, Crescent Coast, and Beautiful Pleasure completed the order of finish.
Under jockey Mike Luzzi, Critical Eye completed the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.18 on a fast track and returned $24.40, $9.80, and $8.50. Second wagering choice Jostle paid $5.20 and $5.90. Apple of Kent returned $8.20 to show. The winning exacta combination returned $68.50.
Owned by her breeder Herbert T. Schwartz and Carol A. Schwartz and trained by Scott M. Schwartz, Critical Eye earned $150,000 for the win, her ninth in 22 career starts. In her last start, the 4-year-old filly won the 1 3/8-mile Sheepshead Bay Handicap (gr. II) after that race was switched off the turf track due to rain. After finishing fourth in Jostle's Alabama Stakes (gr. I) last year, Critical Eye reeled off two straight graded stakes wins, taking the Gazelle (gr. I) and Honeybee (gr. III) Handicaps in succession.
"This isn't her best distance -- she likes to go longer -- but I knew she'd get the pace," said the winning trainer. "She didn't really take off until the eighth pole. Another sixteenth of a mile and she would have won by five lengths."
Schwartz indicated that Critical Eye will now be pointed toward the 1 1/8-mile Go for Wand Handicap (gr. I, July 29) at Saratoga.
Ward said Beautiful Pleasure needed the race. "She was a short horse today," he said. "She'll race into shape no different than any other older horse. This was like a mile-and-a-sixteenth work. She'll probably run next at Saratoga." (Chart, Equibase