Favored Operation Red Dawn collared pacesetter Lemon Cream Pie in deep stretch on his way to his first stakes win in the $106,500 Knickerbocker (gr. IIIT) on Belmont Park's inner turf course Oct. 22 (VIDEO).
Operation Red Dawn, ridden by Rajiv Maragh, stalked in third for most of the 1 1/8-mile race, bidding along the inside into second coming into the stretch. Operation Red Dawn had nearly three lengths to make up in upper stretch and closed steadily to get the job done with room to spare by 1 1/2 lengths.
The 7-year-old came home in a time of 1:50.21 on a course rated "good." It was his first victory since taking an optional claiming allowance heat at Belmont in June 2008.
There were four scratches in the Knickerbocker, including morning line favorite Proudinsky , leaving Operation Red Dawn as the slight 5-2 favorite in the field of six. The Knickerbocker was originally carded Oct. 18 but was moved in anticipation of heavy rain in the New York area over the weekend.
Lemon Cream Pie maintained a 1 1/2-length lead over Yorktown, Danak and Operation Red Dawn while clicking off quarter-mile fractions of :23.75, :49.51 and 1:13.89, and opened up leaving the turn when Yorktown dropped back. Lemon Cream Pie, with Eddie Castro aboard, looked like he would be difficlut to catch but ran out of steam in the final furlong and gave in when Operation Red Dawn, plugging away under smooth handling from Maragh, swept past to win going away.
"We were well within striking range," Maragh said. "He really got going around the eighth pole and was pulling away at the end. He’s an old pro and seems to handle any footing. A little give in the ground is probably better for him because he’s a big, long-striding horse.”
Lemon Cream Pie finished a clear second by 6 1/2 lengths over Brave Tin Soldier and Carlos Marquez Jr. Trailing were Cherokee Speed, Danak and Yorktown.
Christophe Clement trains Operation Red Dawn, a son of Miswaki--Afaladja, by Darshaan owned and bred in Kentucky by Dion A. Recachina. The dark bay gelding ran third in the 2007 Knickerbocker and has five other graded stakes placings, all coming on the turf at New York tracks. Overall, he improved his record to 5-8-7 in 24 starts with earnings of $370,045. The Knickerbocker victory was worth $63,900.
“He’s like good French wine -- he gets better with age," said Clement, who won the Athenia Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Oct. 21 with Belle Allure. "Unbelievable. He went cruising all the way. He’s been knocking on the door for three years. It’s nice to win two graded stakes yesterday and today.”
Operation Red Dawn carried 117 pounds and paid $7, $3.70 and $2.30, keying a $2 exacta of $31.80. Lemon Cream Pie returned $5.20 and $3.30. Brave Tin Soldier, also sent off at 5-2 as the narrow second choice under top weight of 124 pounds, was $2.20 to show.
Besides Proudinsky, other scratches were Nergal, Solar Flare and The Roundhouse. The latter pair entered for the main track only.