So Long George, reunited with jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson, produced his first stakes victory at odds of 10-1 in the $208,333 Nijinsky Stakes (Can-IIT) July 21 over the Woodbine turf (VIDEO).
Uphill Stable's late-developing 4-year-old was fourth in the one-mile King Edward Stakes (gr. IIT) at 34-1 June 23, but was beaten by just a half length with Tyler Pizarro aboard. The son of Arch benefited from the added eighth of a mile in the Nijinsky as well as teaming again with Wilson, who has ridden the gelding in all six of his victories.
So Long George, trained by John Charalambous, completed the nine furlongs in 1:45.28, repulsing the fast closing 22-1 shot Hampstead Heath by three-quarters of a length. So Long George and Hampstead Heath combined for a $2 exacta worth $423.40. Favored Grand Arch finished third after making an early move to get the lead at the head of the stretch, with Classic Bryce fourth.
Charalambous noted that So Long George has made great strides from humble beginnings.
"When I first got him, he was life and death to make time breezing. To be standing here (in the winner's circle) is pretty exciting," said Charalambous.
So Long George, who captured a $23,500 claiming event last September, now looks to be a top contender for Woodbine's lucrative fall turf campaign.
"He just kept stepping up and stepping up," said Charalambous. "We put him in tougher races and he responded. You don't know how proud I am of this horse."
Hidden Brook Farm and Jamie Corbett bred So Long George in Kentucky. The dark bay, out of the Mining mare Gal of Mine, brought $50,000 at the 2010 Keeneland September Yearling sale.
Outsider Artic Fern got the early lead from 2-1 shot Grand Arch, who stalked in second for Luis Contreras before pouncing on the leader rounding the sweeping final turn and taking the lead. Grand Arch forged a short advantage in upper stretch, but left room at the rail for So Long George, which Wilson exploited to reach the front approaching the furlong mark.
Wilson had So Long George positioned in fourth before launching the winning bid in the lane. So Long George, under steady urging, finished willingly to hold Hampstead Heath and Eurico Rosa da Silva at bay in the final yards.
"George was just tracking them easy. I took him where he took me. He's an easy horse to ride, so I went along with the flow of the race and that's where I found myself," said Wilson.
Beaming in the winner's circle, Wilson was clearly proud of the effort put forth by the dark bay gelding.
"Every time we've asked George a question, he's stepped up and answered with a resounding 'yes'," she said. "John has done a marvelous job slowly stepping this horse up and giving him confidence."
Early fractions for the Nijinsky were :24.29 and :47.67. The others were not available.
Brian Lynch trains both Hamstead Heath, who finished second by a neck, and third-place finisher Grand Arch, who was making his stakes debut.
In winning six of his first 13 starts, So Long George has earned $279,893. He began the year June 1 with a victory in a seven-furlong allowance/optional claiming race on the Woodbine turf. That set him for the King Edward three weeks later, in which he rallied effectively from sixth after being in tight on the turn to finish close up.
The King Edward winner, defending Canadian champion male turf winner Riding the River, faded to seventh as the 123-pound highweight after jostling with Hampstead Heath in upper stretch.
So Long George carried 117 pounds and paid $23.60, $11.20, and $5.30. Robert Smithen's Hampstead Heath returned to stakes action for trainer Brian Lynch with a strong effort, returning $19.10 and $8.40. Grand Arch paid $3.60.
Classic Bryce was followed by second choice Valentino Beauty, Hotep, Riding the River, Pool Play, Pender Harbour, and Artic Fern.