Veteran jockey Martin Pedroza guided the pacesetting Private Zone to a gritty victory for trainer Doug O'Neill and Good Friends Stable, managed by former jockey Rene Douglas who discovered the son of Macho Uno racing in Panama last year.
Private Zone, racing along the inside as the 7-2 second choice, was headed past the eighth pole by 5-2 pick Justin Phillip but showed great courage in coming back under urging from Pedroza to put his head in front a couple of strides before the wire. Stewards conducted an inquiry into some bumping during the stretch battle before leaving the result intact.
Forego Stakes (gr. I) winner Strapping Groom was 4 1/2 lengths back in third, with Forty Tales fourth in the field of seven. The final time for the six-furlong event was a swift 1:08.02 on a fast track.
The 4-year-old Private Zone earns an automatic starting berth in the $1.5 million Xpressbet Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park as the Vosburgh is a "Win & You're In" contest. It was his first North American graded stakes win.
Bred in Ontario, Canada, by Adena Springs, Private Zone is out of the Siphon mare Auburn Beauty.
The well-traveled colt was second in both the Malibu (gr. I) and Palos Verdes (gr. II) stakes at Santa Anita during its winter season before shipping to Dubai for the Golden Shaheen (UAE-I) Sponsored by Gulf News where he finished unplaced at Meydan March 30. Given a five-month rest, Private Zone returned to action with a narrow victory in the restricted Pirate's Bounty Stakes at Del Mar Sept. 4.
Breaking from the far outside post, Private Zone took the early lead over Strapping Groom with The Lumber Guy and Justin Phillip stalking the leaders. Private Zone, angled quickly to the inside, opened up about a length's advantage while clipping off solid quarter mile fractions of :22.62 and :44.86.
Private Zone took the lead into the stretch over The Lumber Guy and Strapping Groom before Justin Phillip challenged on the outside for jockey John Velazquez. Leaving the eighth pole, reached in :56.25, Private Zone was under heavy pressure as Justin Phillip forged a short advantage. But the big bay fought back gamely despite being bumped and surged in the final strides under left-handed encouragement from Pedroza to get the victory.
"I got off to a good clean start, and that's what I was concerned about," said Pedroza, the regular rider of Private Zone who was making his first appearance at Belmont Park since finishing second in the 1991 Matron (gr. I) aboard Miss Iron Smoke. "He's very fast and we just waited for the competition. When I let him run, he gave me everything he had."
The victory, worth $240,000 to the winning connections, boosted Private Zone's career bankroll to $513,820 on a record of 5-6-1 in 19 starts.
"This horse has a tendency to (wait on the lead), and it's a credit to Martin Pedroza for knowing the horse," said Jack Sisterson, assistant to O'Neill. "Just the way he was traveling, it looked like he could have opened up because he had a lot of horse. As you can see, Justin Phillip came and headed him and then passed him, and he dug down deep and got the win.
"I was wondering (about the inquiry)," Sisterson added. "Obviously, watching it live I didn't see anything and Martin didn't mention anything coming back. I didn't think that anything was too dramatic to take the horse down."
Velazquez, aboard Justin Phillip, felt otherwise.
"I think it was enough to beat me by a head," he said. "When he touched my horse the first time, (Justin Phillip) lost his balance. The second time, he knocked him completely off balance to beat me by a head. Otherwise, I thought he ran a great race."
Private Zone, carrying 124 pounds, paid $9.20, $4.60, and $3.70 while topping a $37.80 exacta. Zayat Stables' Justin Phillip, winner of the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course and most recently third in the Forego on a sloppy track, returned $3.50 and $2.90. Strapping Groom, the former claiming horse for Drawing Away Stable and David Jacobsen, paid $4.30 to show.