Irish-bred Macaw drew in from the also-eligible list for Keeneland's Fifth Third Elkhorn Stakes (gr. IIIT) with the scratch of morning line favorite Magistretti, then looped the entire field to win Friday's $200,000 closing-day feature by 2 1/2 lengths.
Balestrini, breaking from the rail post, took the early lead in the 1 1/2-mile race, setting slow fractions on a rain-soaked turf course rated yielding. He went the opening quarter-mile in :26.21, the half in :50.93, six furlongs in 1:16.51, and a mile in 1:42.03. Epicentre, the Bobby Frankel-trained defending champion and 9-5 favorite, was forwardly placed early while Macaw and jockey Javier Castellano were at the rear of the 12-horse field.
The early leader was swallowed up by Brickell and a host of others going into the final turn, but when the tightly packed field hit the top of the stretch, the mile and one-quarter clocked in 2:08.04, it appeared the fast-closing Irish-bred, European, would emerge with the victory. But Macaw, who had to wait for racing room while rounding the turn, swung 10 wide at the top of the stretch and found another gear. He easily caught European in the final furlong and drew off to his first victory since winning the John Henry at the Meadowlands in October. Macaw covered the 12 furlongs in 2:32.62, the slowest of the 10 runnings of the Elkhorn at this distance.
Macaw, a 6-year-old gelding by the Storm Bird stallion Bluebird, races for George Melillo and is trained by Angel Penna Jr. This was his fifth win in 33 career starts and was worth $124,000.
Macaw paid $17.40, $9.80, and $7.40 across the board; European finished second with payoffs of $12.40 and $9.20; Rochester (second in the 2004 running of the Elkhorn) was a nose back in third, paying $12.80 to show. The Irish-bred exacta of Macaw and European paid $247.80 for a $2 bet and the $2 trifecta paid $4,089.
"I talked with Angel yesterday and he told me to try and get out of the gate good and lay close up," Castellano said after the race. "The way things set up, from the 13-hole, I couldn't sacrifice that much ground so I just tried to let him settle into a good position. When I asked him to run, he finished very well. He really seemed to like the soft turf. I'm glad it all worked out for the best."
Swagger Stick, Salford City, Stage Call, Epicentre, Art Variety, second choice Navesink River, Scooter Roach, Brickell and Balestrini rounded out the order.
Despite a final week of cool, wet weather, Keeneland established an all-time attendance record for a spring or fall meeting of 235,220 for the 16 days at the Lexington track.
It topped the previous mark of 232,826 set last year.
The total included a single-day record 33,621 on Toyota Blue Grass Day April 17.
The average daily attendance was 14,701 compared to 15,522, a record, for last year's 15-day meeting
John Velazquez won his first riding title at Keeneland, with 21 victories, and Todd Pletcher set a spring meeting record with 16 victories.