Merriefield Farm’s Always First made a thrilling last-to-first move along the hedge under Rene Douglas to steal the $150,000 Sycamore Stakes (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) Oct. 18 at Keeneland.
Always First was making just his second start of 2008 for trainer Tom Voss and entered off an eighth-place finish in the Sept. 13 Kentucky Cup Turf (gr. IIIT) at Kentucky Downs. Through much of the 1 1/2-mile Sycamore, the 7-year-old Barathea gelding seemed destined for another off-the-board finish, as he was last after a mile and in seventh at the quarter-pole.
But after splitting horses in upper stretch, Always First was full of run on the inside and had his sights set on Transduction Gold, who was doing his best to hold off Telling and Good Request. Always First finally caught the leader inside the sixteenth-pole and went on to win by three parts of a length. The final time on the ‘firm’ turf was 2:30.98.
“I didn’t know much about this horse, but I knew he had a nice career last year," Douglas said. "I know he’s (seven) years old, and I don’t want to mess with him. I just let him feel comfortable the whole way. I took my time. When it was time to press the button, I did and he responded to me great.”
Transduction Gold, the winner of last year’s Sycamore, was second by a neck in a three-way runner-up photo. Telling was a nose front of Good Request for third.
Rumor Has It controlled the early pace under Eduardo Perez, clicking off fractions of :24.92, :48.94, 1:13.43 and 1:39.43 for a mile. He began to tire around the final turn and gave way to Transduction Gold, who received a perfect stalking trip from Jon Court. Telling, also close up the whole way, was the closest rival to Transduction Gold, who took a 1 1/2-length advantage into the stretch. The 5-year-old Formal Gold gelding seemed to be headed to his second straight Sycamore victory until Always First came charging up the inside.
“I didn’t expect to inherit the lead that soon," Court said of his ride on Transduction Gold. "I just tried to steal away down the stretch. We held on for second, got caught. He (Always First) came flying. I can’t make any excuses.”
Always First was bred in England, where he began his racing career in 2003. The bay won once in six starts overseas before shipping to the U.S. early in 2005. The Sycamore was his third graded stakes score on American soil and seventh win in 21 career starts. Always First was third in the 2006 Sycamore.
Sent off as the fourth choice in a field of 10, Always First paid $14.60, $6.40 and $4.60. The exacta (10-4) returned $49.20, while the trifecta (10-4-2) was worth $347.40.
Silverfoot finished fifth, followed by My Happiness, Hapaheart, Guadalcanal, Phil the Power and Rumor Has It. Elusive Fort was scratched.
Bred by D.B. Clark and A.L. and Mrs. Penfold, Always First is out of the Dilum mare Pink Cristal. He has now earned $578,032.