Next-to-last three furlongs from the wire, Cynthia Phipps' homebred Saarland rallied through the stretch to earn a narrow win over Nokoma in the $200,000 Remsen Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct Saturday.
"He's still learning and really doesn't know what his job is yet. He wants to come from behind, but you have to be aggressive with him to keep him in contact with the field," said winning jockey John Velazquez. "Nokoma was running in front of me, and I wanted to follow him inside. He got through coming off the turn, but I went outside instead. I thought he (Saarland) was going to put in an explosive run, but he was green and came little by little. Once he saw the horse inside of him, he really took off in the final yards. He galloped out great. I'm very high on him."
The win was the second straight for Velazquez, who piloted Smok'n Frolic to a wire-to-wire victory in the Demoiselle (gr. II) one race earlier. The jockey also won the fourth race aboard Kingsland.
The win marks the second in five starts for Saarland, who earned his owners $120,000 for his efforts. The 2-year-old son of Unbridled--Versaillles Treaty, by Danzig, is trained by Claude "Shug" McGaughey.
"Hopefully, he'll get a little stronger behind during the winter," said the trainer. "If he is able to kick at horses this way, I don't want to do anything to take him out of his game. He's going to learn a lot in the next two months. He's been steady at it all summer. When he broke his maiden, he went right into the Champagne and he stumbled at the start and bled a little bit. On Breeders' Cup Day, he just didn't run that good. Today, he never really ran until the last eighth of a mile. He beat a nice horse; I think that second horse (Nokoma) will be OK. ... He'll leave for Florida on Tuesday and he will be at Gulfstream."
Nokoma finished a neck behind the winner and three lengths clear of third-place Silent Fred. Robins Beauty came home fourth, followed by Monthir, Listen Here, Right too Refuse, Seat Open, and Jule Bandit.
Saarland paid $5.70, $3.70, and $2.90 as the favorite. Nokoma returned $5.40 and $4.10, and Silent Fred $4.60. The winning exacta combination paid $31.40.
"I've always thought the Remsen was a great race," said McGaughey. "I won it with Fast Play (1988) and Coronado's Quest ('97). When I left here with Coronado's Quest after the Remsen, I thought I had the real deal. I think I did have it, it's just that he went nuts. I can see Saarland coming back here for the Wood Memorial, I know he likes this track and he handled the ship over here fine." (Chart, Equibase