Michael Tabor's Buckle Down Ben, prepping for the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), earned a neck-length victory over X Country in a one-mile allowance race Sunday at Churchill Downs. Under jockey Pat Day, the 3-year-old son of Devil His Due completed the distance in 1:34.84 on a fast track.
Buckle Down Ben pressed the pace set alternately by Hail to Wild Again and then Halo Cat as that trio contested the first half-mile in :45.80. Buckle Down Ben was then sent to the lead before being headed by X Country in the stretch. The D. Wayne Lukas-trained Buckle Down Ben fought back while being brushed near the sixteenth-pole en route to the win. The 9-10 favorite returned $3.80 for the win.
"It was a very, very handy race today," said Day. "He jumped right into the race and was a bit on the aggressive side. He hadn't been out in a while, so you would anticipate that he would be a bit fresh. He pressed fast early fractions and that horse (X Country) got the jump on him off the turn. Actually, I never did hit him. I just picked him up and called on him and encouraged him and he responded nicely and was drawing away at the end and then galloped out very strong around the turn. He's a big strong colt and, in Wayne's hands, you never know -- as was true with Commendable last year. You can't turn your back on him, that's for sure."
The win marked Day's 7,999th career victory.
Buckle Down Ben improved his career record to three wins from eight starts in earning his first win of the year. As a juvenile, he won the Laurel Futurity (gr. III) and finished third in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II). His most recent race prior to Sunday was the Turfway Spiral Stakes (gr. II), in which he finished sixth.
"I was real pleased," said Lukas. "I wanted a little bit softer race, but on the other hand I needed a good one from him. The thing I needed to see was some talent and he showed that. I was a little bit in the dark after the Turfway race (the Spiral). So I needed to see a little something today.
"The Belmont has been won with a good mile before. Woody (Stephens) did it and it's not crazy. At least we go in there now without the general overview of you all (the press) of 'What's he doing with that one in there?' This horse has showed that he has at least earned a berth."
On Sunday, Lukas said Buckle Down Ben came out of the race in good order and that he will probably work the colt once more before shipping to New York.
"He looks good," said Lukas. "Pat never hit him and we still got a good solid race. This should set us up good. In light of what I see this morning I feel better about it."
X Country finished second for the fifth time in 12 career races, including runner-up finishes in four stakes races at Turfway Park. In his most recent start prior to Sunday's allowance race, X Country finished fifth in the Crown Royal American Turf Stakes (gr. IIIT) on firm turf at Churchill. (Chart, Equibase