Cool Conductor took advantage of a pace vacuum in Saturday's $200,000 Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT), going gate to wire under Cornelio Velasquez to upset Vangelis on the Arlington Park turf.
The Ralph Nicks-trained 4-year-old colt led by an insurmountable six lengths with a furlong to go and had plenty left to hold off the belated rally from Vangelis, the 7-5 favorite ridden by Ramon Dominguez. The final margin was 3 1/4 lengths.
"I came to ride this horse today because I know what he can do," said Velasquez. "I wanted to be in front and I could feel I still had a lot of horse at the top of the stretch. He relaxed very well for me. I just tried to put him in a good position and let him run his race."
Major Rhythm finished third, six lengths behind the winner. The final time for the 1 1/4-mile event was a solid 2:02 1/5 on good footing.
Cool Conductor, by Stravinsky
, was a confirmed front-runner as a 3-year-old. But after learning to race while covered up, he scored an upset in the Dixie Handicap (gr. IIT) at Pimlico May 21. He looked a little more like his old self Saturday, when he broke on the lead from his rail post and never looked back through fractions of :25, :49 3/5, 1:15 and 1:39 2/5. Cool Conductor sprinted away from Demeteor on the far turn to build a huge lead over the late-arriving Vangelis, who began his move from last in the field of seven on the turn and continued to gain while never posing a threat to the winner.
"When you are on a closer you can only hope there's a little bit of pace for you to run at," said Dominguez, who came in to ride Vangelis. "The winner got away very good but my horse was running very well at the end."
It was the fifth win in 18 starts for Cool Conductor, who improved his lifetime earnings to $630,046 for owner David E. Garner. The Kentucky-bred Cool Conductor was coming off a fourth-place finish in the United Nations Handicap (gr. IT) at Monmouth when he closed much ground to miss by 1 1/4 lengths to Better Talk Now.
The Arlington Handicap serves as the final local prep for the Arlington Million (gr. IT) on Aug. 13, and Nicks indicated that race remains on his radar screen.
"If he comes out of this race all right, we'll see you in three weeks," Nicks said.
The second choice paid $6.80, $2.80, and $2.40. Vangelis returned $2.60 and $2.20. Major Rhythm's show was $3.60.
B.A. Way, Cloudy's Knight, Artiste Royal, and Demeteor completed the order.