Allowed to establish an easy pace on a soft Arlington Park turf course, Cosmonaut turned it on in the stretch to register an easy front-running victory in the $200,000 Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT) Saturday.
Ridden by Julien Leparoux for trainer Patrick Biancone and owner Flying Zee Stable, Cosmonaut, a gray 4-year-old colt by Lemon Drop Kid
is most likely headed for the Arlington Million (gr. IT) on Aug. 12.
Cosmonaut, who won the Golden Gate Fields Handicap (gr. III) when it was switched from turf to dirt in March, was coming off a ninth-place finish in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs. Biancone took the blinkers off Cosmonaut Saturday, and he responded by going nearly gate to wire to win by 2 1/4 lengths in a time of 2:03 on "soft" going.
"He got to the front easily," said Leparoux, the nation's leading jockey in races won who was making his Arlington Park debut. "He was very relaxed and when I asked him at the three-eighths, he gave a good answer. He was very relaxed going back to the turf and that helped, too. The turf today isn't really soft, but it's not firm either, but he liked it."
Load a Chronic, the longest shot in the field of six at odds of 29-1 under Francisco Torres, rallied from last with a strong run at the rail through the lane to beat out Artiste Royale and Rene Douglas for second.
"He showed up today and that's half the battle," Torres said. "Whether he's 2-5 or 15-1, if the horse shows up, he's going to give you his best and he gave me his best today. Unfortunately, we were second best but I'm pleased and tickled the way he ran."
The Irish-bred gelding Red Fort disappointed with a fourth-place finish as the 7-5 favorite. Also disappointing was the 5-2 second choice Rush Bay, who led the opening quarter mile but faded after a mile.
Rush Bay, Red Fort were separated by two heads through and opening quarter mile of :24 4/5. Cosmonaut took control under pressure through fractions of :48 4/5 and 1:13 3/5 while edging away from Red Fort, who pressed the pace for Eddie Castro. Artiste Royale, stalking along the inside, angled off the rail on the final turn and was poised for a run at Cosmonaut in the stretch but failed to respond as the winner continued to pull away. Load a Chronic proved second best while never threatening the winner.
Winning for the fourth time in 15 lifetime starts, Cosmonaut banked $120,000 to push his earnings to $366,200. While making his first start at Arlington Park, he won for the third time in eight tries on grass.
The fourth choice, Cosmonaut paid $10.40, $5.80 and $5. The 6-year-old Shannon Ritter-trained gelding Load a Chronic returned $15.40 and $6, completing a $151 exacta. Artiste Royale, who ran sixth in this race last year in his first U.S. start, was $4 to show.
Patricia Pavlish bred Cosmonaut, who is out of the Capote mare Cosmic Fire, in Kentucky. He was a $105,000 yearling buy at Keeneland in September 2003.