Coming off a third-place finish behind Boisterous and Lake Drop in the Nov. 3 Red Smith Handicap (gr. IIT) at Aqueduct Racetrack, the 4-year-old Pennsylvania homebred Smart Strike gelding went 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.22 on firm going for Brushwood Stable and trainer Christophe Clement, who won the 1999 Tropical Turf with Hibernian Rhapsody. He posted a half-length victory.
Meet-leading jockey Luis Saez gave the eventual winner the kind of ride that brought him to the winner's circle with a record-breaking 118 wins at Calder this season. Hugging the hedge after a quick break from the one hole, Saez patiently settled his mount in fifth while Hollinger set opening fractions of :24.57 and :50.19 one length ahead of Empire Builder.
"The trainer told me that the horse liked being along the rail," Saez said of his pre-race instructions. "So I broke good and I took him right there."
Through three-quarters in 1:14.64, Saez was able to improve his position along the rail to fourth, and when an opening presented itself turning for home, he wheeled his runner out to the three path and set down for the drive.
"Going down the backstretch I had a lot of horse and was just waiting for the stretch," Saez said. "When (jockey) Elvis (Trujillo aboard a tiring Sleepless Knight) came out, that was good for me because I was able to get in the clear, and my horse passed them all with no problem."
Philly Ace responded with a nimble turn of foot, easily blew by Empire Builder, and ran down the tiring Hollinger with energy on the outside.