A 4-year-old son of Dynaformer, Le Grand Cru entered the seven-furlong contest off a victory in the Oct. 4 Kelso Handicap (gr. III) in the mud at Belmont for his first stakes win. The dark bay colt is trained by Allen Jerkens.
Sent at 7-1 under Jose Lezcano, the longest shot in a field of five older horses, Le Grand Cru was never far off the pace set by Sing Baby Sing, who ran the opening quarter in :22.47, and Lucky Island, who took over further along the backstretch and hit a half-mile in :44.92. He put those two away as they rounded the turn, but had to deal with past the Point and Edgar Prado, who hooked the new leader while coming three-wide at the quarter-pole.
Le Grand Cru and Past the Point were never separated by much once they straightened away, and the two rivals dueled through the final furlong while drifting out toward the middle of the racetrack. Sing Baby Sing was chasing the leaders further from the outside but could never get by.
Le Grand Cru edged in front of Past the Point inside the final 100 yards and held on for a hard-fought half-length win.
The final time on a main track labeled fast was 1:22.19. Past the Point was runner-up, three parts of a length in front of Sing Baby Sing.
“I didn’t want to rush out of the gate," Lezcano said. "I wanted to let him settle a little bit. I tried to wait and wait until the quarter pole. When (Past the Point) went past, my horse came right back without me really asking him. He’s really in the game now. When I rode him before, sometimes he didn’t want to do certain things, but now he’s really getting good.”
Bred in Kentucky by Earle Mack and out of the El Gran Senor mare Ice the Champagne, Le Grand Cru has had a busy season, going to post 12 times with three wins. He began the campaign in allowance company and made his stakes debut July 18 in Belmont’s Jaipur Stakes (gr. III), finishing fourth.
The winner now has earnings of $337,078 from 13 lifetime starts.
"That race the last time (Kelso) gave him confidence," Jerkens said. "The jockey is riding him good, too; it was a team effort. I thought he was a shorter price than he was on the board. I looked and thought, ‘Gee, he’s the least thought-of all the horses in here?’ But I’m not a very good handicapper. The great Hirsch Jacobs used to say, ‘It’s better to be surprised than disappointed.’”
Le Grand Cru paid $17.80, $6.60, and $2.80. The exacta (6-2) returned $64 and the trifecta (6-2-1) was $140.50.