Although the crowd couldn't see much of the race it was treated to an exciting stretch run. Visionaire lagged behind the field of nine on a track rated sloppy and sealed for the 1 1/16-mile test for sophomores. But the Grand Slam colt picked up the field rounding the final turn and dug down late to to get the job done for jockey Jose Lezcano in the final couple of strides.
Owned by Team Valor International and Vision Racing, Visionaire was coming off a third-place finish behind Pyro in the Risen Star (gr. III) at Fair Grounds Feb. 9. Rather than take that one on again in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), trainer Michael Matz opted for this softer spot. Visionaire was the only horse in the field to have routed in a graded stakes.
“We went in the TV room and couldn’t see a darn thing,” said Team Valor’s Barry Irwin. “We couldn’t see anything until the stretch. That’s the way to watch a horse race: just watch the last eighth, then you don’t get nervous. We were very nervous because of the way the track was playing.”
Saratoga Russell, the 8-5 favorite ridden by Eibar Coa, set solid fractions for the conditions while chased by Ling Ling Qi and Roman Emperor -- :23.78, :46.37 and 1:11.40. Saratoga Russell led the field rounding the final turn before he was overtaken by the stalking Texas Wildcatter three wide coming into the stretch. Texas Wildcatter, equipped with blinkers for the first time and ridden by Norberto Arroyo, kicked clear in the lane and appeared an easy winner approaching the eighth pole. However, Visionaire, who broke from the far outside gate and didn't get a call until the home stretch, emerged from the fog and kept coming to get up just in time.
“I knew there was some speed in the race, and I was in no hurry to ask my horse,” Lezcano said. “My plan was just to make one move and come with a strong finish. I felt I had a lot of horse coming off the turn. I think he showed how good a horse he was today. He handled everything.”
Larrys Revenge and Joe Bravo ran on for third, 7 3/4 lengths behind, at odds of 36-1. The winning time was 1:44.60.
The previously undefeated Giant Moon, sent off as the 7-2 second choice raced on the inside but tired and finished last under high weight of 120 pounds.
“He was very upset with the surface,” said trainer Richard Schosberg. “You can tell he was not handling it at all. He’s obviously better than that. We’ve got a lot of thinking to do now. Obviously, the main concern is to make sure he’s OK.”
Team Valor, who won the 1997 Wood Memorial with Captain Bodgit in the slop, may point Visionaire to the 84th running of the grade I Wood for 3-year-olds at nine furlongs to be run on Aqueduct’s main track on April 5. The Wood Memorial is New York’s last major prep for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), which will be run on May 3. The Wood Memorial could mean a rematch for Visionaire and Texas Wildcatter.
“The horse ran well,” said Seth Benzel, assistant to Pletcher. “He made a lot of improvement off his last race. It looks like blinkers were a success. We’ll look toward the Wood Memorial and hopefully take ‘em on again.”
A $220,000 Ocala sale as a 2-year-old last June, Visionaire earned his first stakes victory. He has three victories in five starts with earnings of $228,260 and has never been out of the money. The victory was worth $150,000. Reiley McDonald bred the chestnut, who is out of the French Deputy mare Scarlet Tango, in Kentucky.
Sent off as the third choice, Visionaire carried 116 pounds to victory and paid $11, $5.60 and $3.80.
Stonerside Stable's Texas Wildcatter, coming off a third-place finish in Aqueduct's Whirlaway Feb. 2 for Pletcher, returned $5.70 and $3.50 and completed a $2 exacta worth $84.50.
Larrys Revenge, now trained by Nick Zito for owner Robert LaPenta, was $10.80 to show. Larrys Revenge ran in Southern California as a 2-year-old for trainer Doug O'Neill.
Roman Emperor, Ling Ling Qi, Holidaze, Southern Terminus, Saratoga Russell and Giant Moon completed the order. Laysh Laysh Laysh scratched.
“The first quarter was great, but they went a :23 flat second quarter and that might have been his undoing,” said Rick Violette Jr., trainer of Saratoga Russell. “Eibar said he heard some noise galloping out, so he could have displaced or he could just have been really tired. We might go back to sprinting before stretching him out again to give him some confidence back. This is a setback and I’m not sure the first Saturday in May is in our sights.”