The victory was the first in a graded stakes for Simmard, a Kentucky-bred 7-year-old son of Dixieland Band who completed the 1 3/8-mile distance in 2:11.71 on firm ground. Roger Attfield trains the winner for owner/breeder Haras Santa Maria de Araras S.A.
Javier Castellano rode Simmard to victory.
Attfield also saddled the third-place finisher, German-bred Musketier, who was making his 10-year-old season debut. Musketier, a 45-race veteran, earned $15,000 to surpass $1 million in career earnings.
The trainer said the finish was too close for him to tell if Simmard won, but said he was extremely pleased with the chestnut's effort.
"He'd been getting too far out of it," Attfield said. "So I was pleased to see him up closer. I was really proud of how the old guy did, too."
Simmard, who finished a close second to Musketier in the W.L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IIT) at Calder Casino & Race Course in his last start Nov. 26, had just one victory in his previous 15 starts before breaking through here.
“Speed has been holding well here and the pace was slow, so I didn’t want to be too far back,” Castellano said. “He’s such a long-striding horse. I just let him break and sit in the clear. He wouldn’t let the other horse by. He ran a huge race today.”
Newsdad, a 6 3/4-length winner of an optional claiming event at 1 7/16 miles on the Gulfstream turf Jan. 28, was made the 2-1 favorite in the field of 10.
Newsdad and Simmard stalked the pace in third and fourth, respectively, as Mambo Meister jumped to the lead while tracked by Center Divider. Mambo Meister carved a moderate pace while maintaining an edge over Center Divider. Fractions were :25.13, :49.45, and 1:13.62.
Simmard, angled out by Castellano, turned up the pressure rounding the final bend as Center Divider responded and Mambo Meister gave way. Simmard had Center Divider's measure in the lane as Newsdad, ridden by Julien Leparoux, ranged up for the drive.
Those two went on with it through the homestretch with little separating them in the final furlong. Simmard, along the inside, managed to keep his nose in front in the final strides to produce a mild 4-1 upset.
“He’s a horse that has developed really late in his career," Attfield said. "He has gotten better and better. He has been knocking on the door in so many races, I knew he’d have to win a stakes eventually. It was a great effort."
Musketier, well back for most of the journey under John Velazquez, came with his customary late run to get the third spot from Center Divider by a head. Musketier was 5 3/4 lengths behind the first two.
“Looking at the race, Musketier wasn’t involved at all early," Attfield noted. "It didn’t look like he was in the bridle on the backside, but I knew he’d eventually pick it up. It was just too late, but he did come with a good run.
"I’ll run one of them in the Pan American (gr. IIIT), March 24, and go to Keeneland with the other one. I’ll try to keep them apart.”
Simmard, who is out of the Spectacular Bid mare Dibs, improved his career mark to 6-4-2 in 28 starts and bumped his earnings to $507,391.
The winner carried 117 pounds, six fewer than his high-weighted stablemate, and paid $10.60, $5.20, and $3.40 as the fourth choice. Newsdad, from the Bill Mott barn, returned $4.20 and and $3, and completed a $40.60 exacta. Musketier, also making his first start since the McKnight, paid $3.