Former claiming horse G P Fleet squeezed between horses in the stretch and successfully dueled with Cloudy's Knight to win the $174,300 River City Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the Churchill Downs turf Sunday.
Substitute rider Jose Martinez Jr. guided the 4-year-old Florida-bred Northern Afleet
gelding to victory in the 1 1/8-mile event for trainer Steve Flint. G P Fleet won by a half-length.
"It's hard to win a graded stake with a claiming horse," said Flint. "Not many guys get to do that. The odds of you claiming a horse and winning a graded stake at Churchill Downs may be ... I'm not going to say like hitting the Powerball ... but it's like hitting the Kentucky Lottery."
Able to save ground while stalking pacesetters Quest Star and Warleigh, Martinez eased the 12-1 G P Fleet off the rail in mid-stretch through a hole that materialized between Warleigh and Cloudy's Knight. Cloudy's Knight, ridden by Chris Emigh, picked up the challenge and the two fought to the wire, G P Fleet winning under brisk left-handed urging. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile River City was 1:51 1/5 on a yielding course.
Brazilian-bred Ay Caramba came on for third with Manoel Cruz aboard, 5 3/4 lengths behind the runner-up, nipping Deputy Strike and Eddie Martin Jr. by a nose. With favorite Warleigh (5/2) and Honor in War (7/2) both running out of the money, the exacta paid $424.20, the trifecta returned $2,745.20 and the superfecta came back $19,203.20.
The win was especially rewarding to Martinez, who got the mount aboard G P Fleet on Sunday morning when jockey Eddie Martin, Jr., who was originally named to ride the horse, elected to ride Deputy Strike.
"Steve told me this morning that (G P Fleet) was going to win," said Martinez. "He told me to basically break sharp and save ground and make sure you have a good trip. I thought I had a good chance at the three-eighths pole. I was sitting on a lot of horse."
Quest Star led through fractions of :24, :48 and 1:13 before Warleigh took over coming off the turn. Cloudy's Knight soon grabbed the lead as Warleigh weakened and Ay Caramba rallied.
G P Fleet, who has now won three of five starts on the Churchill sod, has now won back-to-back races. He took a $100,000 optional claiming race that was switched from the turf to the Churchill main track Nov. 3.
G P Fleet, who was claimed last year for $80,000 by Flint for owners Richard, Elaine and Bertram Klein, won for the third time in 10 starts in 2004 and collected $108,066.
Overall, G P Fleet is 6-7-2 in 21 lifetime starts with earnings of $334,704.
George Parrish bred the winner, who is out of the Spectacular Bid mare Come On Bid.
G P Fleet paid $26.60, $12.80 and $8. Cloudy's Knight returned $16.20 and $9.60. Ay Caramba's show was $4.60.
Honor in War finished behind Deputy Strike in fifth, followed by Tam's Terms, Warleigh, False Promises, Dumaani Star, Quest Sar, French Lieutenant and Dr. Kashnikow.