Gary and Mary West's Poker Player unleashed a huge move in mid-stretch to collar the leaders for an impressive upset victory at 23-1 in the off-the-turf Bourbon Stakes at a water-sogged Keeneland Oct. 6 (VIDEO).
Not unlike the disruptions on the previous day's card, Keeneland was inundated with storms and heavy rainfall that delayed racing briefly. The Bourbon, originally carded as a grade III stake at 1 1/16 miles on turf, was moved to the main Polytrack surface.
Longshots Solar Flair and Manaus took charge from the start and were head-and-head into the first turn. After a quarter was completed in :23.47, Manaus led Solar Flair through a half in :47.97. Boji Moon, the 2-1 favorite in the 11-horse field, was always in a stalking position right behind the leaders and took over coming out of the turn, with six furlongs in 1:12.05.
Meanwhile, Poker Player and jockey Channing Hill were well back in 10th along the rail before the jockey deftly moved his charge through company to the outside in the stretch and steadily passed horses. Poker Player gaind the lead on the outside less than a furlong from home, posting a one-length victory over Bashart, the 5-2 second choice who had taken the lead apporaching mid-stretch. Final time was 1:43.46.
"I saw Hill was saving ground around the corner; everything was working out real nice," winning trainer Wayne Catalano said of the race. "When he turned for home, he got clear right there, and I thought we had a big shot. I had two horses in the race. I was watching the 1 horse (School On a Hill) down on the rail. He was a little bottle-necked in there. I was hoping he'd get a little room, then all of a sudden here comes Poker Player on the outside getting clear running, and here we are."
Poker Player, a son of Harlan's Holiday, was coming off a scintillating maiden win at Kentucky Downs in which he won his second career start in similar rallying fashion. He paid $48.40, $15.40, and $9.40. Bashart, who had taken the grade II With Anticipation at Saratoga Race Course previous to the Bourbon and was steadied in the first turn, paid $5.20 and $4.20 as the top two combined for a $237.40 exacta. Calder Casino & Race Course stakes winner Bon Accord finished third, paying $10.60.
The order was completed by All Cash, Medal Count, previously undefeated Boji Moon, Culprit, School On a Hill, Oogeley Eye, Tiger Bourbon, Whyruawesome, Solar Flair, and Manaus.
Bred in Kentucky by Nicholas Lotz, Rosemary Lotz, and the Harlan's Holiday Syndicate, Poker Player was purchased by agent Ben Glass for $120,000 from the consignment of Brereton C. Jones' Airdrie Stud at the 2011 Keeneland November mixed sale. The gray/roan colt is out of the Red Bullet mare Revel in the Win.
The Bourbon was run as non-graded stake under guidelines of the American Graded Stakes Committee in which a race is reduced one grade when it is moved from its originally carded surface. The grade could be restored upon review by the AGSC and likely would be since none of the 10 entrants scratched. Because it was run on the main track, one horse, Culprit, was allowed to draw into the main body of the race off the also eligible list.
The race also lost its status as a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" race which would have provided an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IT) to the winner.
Catalano said it is likely Poker Player would move on to the World Championships.