Danny A. Limongelli's Banjo Picker, dismissed at odds of 47-1 though he had won four of nine starts this year, won the $112,000 Gravesend Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct in an exciting three-horse photo finish Sunday.
The 5-year-old Pennsylvania-bred Swear By Dixie gelding led throughout under jockey Tara Hemmings, battling back between Pioneer Empire and Saay Mi Name when surrounded in deep stretch to score a head victory in the six-furlong feature, New York's last graded stakes race of 2005.
The Gravesend was the first graded stakes win for Banjo Picker, who covered the distance in 1:10.
Trained by Steve Krebs, Banjo Picker returned $96, $45.60, and $21.40, beating out 45-1 Pioneer Empire ($33.40, $18.20) to top a $2 exacta worth $1,234. Saay Mi Name ($7.80), a neck back at 7-1, completed a $2 trifecta that paid $7,239. No one correctly picked the superfecta, so a $2 payout for 1-2-5-all returned $12,810.
Carrying one pound overweight at 114, Banjo Picker enjoyed nine pounds less for this race. He ran sixth in the Rutgers at the Meadowlands Nov. 12.
Banjo Picker, breaking from the rail, shot out to get the opening quarter-mile in :22 on the fast inner dirt track. He opened a two-length lead after a half-mile of :45 1/5 and five furlongs in :57 2/5. He came off the rail, opening a huge hole for Saay Mi Name, while Pioneer Empire came with a strong drive on the outside. Pioneer Empire actually got a nose in front, but as soon as he did, Banjo Picker responded and got his head down in the final strides.
It was the first graded stakes win for both Krebs and Hemmings.
"I was looking at this race a while back and figured we would nominate and take a look at it," Krebs said. "I was looking at the form all night, and really thought he fit in with these horses."
Hemming, a 28-year-old from England, has been at Philadelphia Park for three years after a stint at Santa Anita.
"He's as game as they come," Hemmings said. "He's beaten Spooky Mulder (seventh Sunday) twice this year, and if that horse had a shot, we certainly had a shot. This is my first graded stakes win, and it's very exciting. It is tough for women to get top mounts in this game. Steve could have put another jockey on, but he stayed loyal to me and I am very appreciative for that."
Banjo Picker earned $67,200 for his eighth win in 25 starts and boosted his bankroll to $241,374.
Super Fuse, Introspect, Acclimate, Spooky Mulder, Exciting Metro, Presidentialaffair, and 9-5 choice Smokume, who chased the pace from the outside before fading, trailed.