Stronach Stable’s odds-on choice Ginger Punch rebounded from a neck loss in the Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) last month to easily win Sunday’s $147,000 First Flight Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO) for fillies and mares at Belmont Park.
It was the first graded stakes win for the Florida homebred 4-year-old chestnut filly by Awesome Again --Nappelon (Bold Revenue).
Nothing But Fun broke to the lead in the seven-furlong event, with Sweet Fervor on the inside and Ginger Punch rating on the outside under a patient Rafael Bejarano. The first quarter went in :23.06 and the half-mile in :46.74,when Sweet Fervor made a move on the inside to get the lead.
Ginger Punch hadn't punched it in, however, and she simply ran away from the rest when asked at the top of the lane for a five-length victory in 1:22.04 on the fast main track.
“Rafael really knows this filly well,” said Scott Hansen, assistant to winning trainer Bobby Frankel. “If he were on her the other day (in the Phipps), I really think we would have won. She’s been a pleasant surprise. We might stretch her back out; I know Bobby wanted to win a graded stakes race with her. That was the main objective. She was training so well going into this, and she settled great.”
Bejarano, who has been aboard for all of Ginger Punch’s four victories, knew he had the class of a five-horse field. Frankel scratched the main rival, Sugar Swirl, and Bejarano rode her accordingly.
“My horse likes to run like that,” Bejarano said. “She likes to follow somebody. When I saw (Sweet Fervor) coming up the rail from the three-eighths pole to the quarter-pole, I had a lot of horse. Nobody put a lot of pressure on me from the outside. When we came off the turn, I knew she had run left. She’s a nice horse.”
Ginger Punch paid $3.20, $2.20, and $2.10. Sweet Fervor, ridden by Kent Desormeaux for trainer Bill Mott, returned $3.40 and $2.50. It was two lengths to Swap Fliparoo, who was $2.70 to show under John Velazquez. Silmaril and Nothing But Fun completed the order of finish.