Winchester swept past favored Paddy O'Prado in deep stretch to comfortably win the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (gr. IT) (VIDEO) by one length on a yielding Belmont Park Widener Turf Course Oct. 2.
Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Firestone's winning 5-year-old homebred son of Theatrical--Rum Charger took another step in a strong 2010 campaign that also includes a victory in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) for trainer Christophe Clement. Winchester went over the $1 million mark in career earnings with the victory.
Second choice in the field of nine, Winchester took the overland route for jockey Cornelio Velasquez to run down Paddy O'Prado, who used a powerful move on the final turn of the 1 1/2-mile journey to overtake the mare Treat Gently near mid-stretch. The final time was 2:36.09.
Paddy O'Prado, the 6-5 choice, finished second by a half-length with Kent Desormeaux aboard. Grassy and Garrett Gomez ran on well for third by 1 1/4 lengths over Treat Gently.
"When the ground is soft, either they like it or they don’t," Clement said. "He won the Manhattan on very firm ground, which slightly puzzled me because I’ve always thought he was better with a cut in the ground. We’re very lucky to have won a grade I on both types of turf. I think after this race, as long as he trains well, we’ll have to think about the Breeders’ Cup [Turf]."
Clement was referring to the $3 million Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs.
Winchester has won three of seven starts in 2010 with two seconds a third. He is especially fond of the main Belmont turf with two wins and two seconds in four starts. After winning the Manhattan in June, Winchester ran third in the Betfair/TVG United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) at Monmouth Park July 3. After a two-month break the bay horse returned with a runner-up finish, losing by a neck to Al Khali, in the Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT) at Belmont Sept. 11.
Interpatation, who won last year's Hirsch Classic at odds of 43-1, grabbed the early lead this year over Strike a Deal and a stalking Treat Gently while covering an easy half-mile in :52.98, six furlongs in 1:20.37, and the mile in 1:46.38. Strike a Deal was the first to challenge rounding the final bend, getting the lead with Treat Gently, three wide, closing in as well. Treat Gently, ridden by John Velazquez, led briefly in the stretch before Paddy O'Prado swept past for Desormeaux.
Winchester, last after the first mile, was right behind the favorite, however. He took the lead near the sixteenth pole on the far outside and inched away from Paddy O'Prado, whose three-race graded stakes winning streak came to an end.
“The track is very soft so my horse was more comfortable getting covered up," Velasquez said. "Then in the last quarter I put him in the clear, and he finished very well. I followed Kent Desormeaux (on Paddy O'Prado) almost the whole race."
Paddy O'Prado was made the heavy favorite though the 3-year-old was facing older horse for the first time at a distance he had never tried before for trainer Dale Romans.
Romans said he was pleased with Paddy O'Prado's effort and the trainer is planning on running the colt in the Breeders' Cup Turf.
"It’s up to (owner) Jerry [Crawford] – he’ll have final say – but I saw enough to say he could be in the big one," Romans said. "We might have moved a little bit early, but as Kent said it was an unusual race with that kind of pace scenario and the soft turf.”
Winchester improved his career mark to 5-5-2 in 19 starts and hiked his earnings to $1,057,898 with the Turf Classic's winning purse of $300,000.
He paid $9.40, $4, and $3.10, topping a $27.40 exacta. Paddy O'Prado returned $3.20 and $2.10. Grassy, also trained by Clement, paid $7.20 to show.
Treat Gently was followed by Telling, Never On Sunday, Interpatation, Strike a Deal, and Bearpath.
Al Khali and Solitaire were scratched.