Shadwell Stables' homebred Najjaar returned to Polytrack for the first time since his 2-year-old season Oct. 17 and handled the switch with success, taking an off-the-turf edition of the $100,000 Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland by three-quarters of a length under a vigorous finishing ride from jockey James Graham (VIDEO).
Najjaar, a 4-year-old son of Jazil who had not won since taking an allowance event at Oaklawn Park March 2, 2012, came off a strong third by 1 1/4 lengths in the Aug. 17 American St. Leger on the Arlington Park lawn to get the job done for trainer Danny Peitz in this 1 5/8-mile event on Polytrack.
Graham tucked his mount into a good stalking spot third along the rail while Reflecting went ahead to set early fractions of :26.42, :51.63, and 1:17.10. Eagle Poise, the 2-1 favorite who tracked the pace four-wide as a mile went in 1:42.12, ranged up to take the lead by a length at the quarter pole. But Najjaar was working his way around the tiring front-runner and found himself in striking range once the field turned for home.
Once the bay colt found clear sailing on the rail again, he quickened away under the strong right-handed stick of Graham, who persevered until the line and a final time of 2:41.49. Eagle Poise held for second by a neck over Tricky Hat.
Najjaar returned $11.80, $5.40, and $3.40 while Eagle Poise brought $3.60 and $2.60 with Tricky Hat returning $2.80. Suntracer, Olympic Thunder, and Reflecting completed the order of finsh. Rahystrada, Nutello, and Temeraine scratched. All runners carried 121 pounds.
"Great trip," Graham remarked. "Saved all the ground, rode to instructions, got through on the inside and quickened up smartly. He needs a target to run at, he got it today and he finished up perfect."
The victory was the second in the Sycamore for Graham; he took his first edition in 2007 on Transduction Gold.
Peitz said he didn't know how Najjaar would transfer to Polytrack when the Sycamore came off the turf, but he was given some confidence by the colt's one prior start over the synthetic surface as a 2-year-old in 2011 (he finished second by a nose in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight).
"I didn't really know what to expect," Peitz said. "The only time he'd run here on the Polytrack was as a 2-year-old in his second start, but he was second that day, and he trained on it (at Arlington) all summer. He finished well."
Najjar's past four starts (of 13 turf starts overall) had come on the lawn after a failed bid on dirt in the Razorbak Handicap (gr. III) at Oaklawn in March. Bred in Kentucky out of the Darshaan mare Hasheema, he now has a 3-4-4 record from 16 outs, with earnings of $237,972. The Sycamore was his first stakes score.
The Sycamore would have carried grade III status if it had stayed on the turf. It is the American Graded Stakes Committee's policy to automatically downgrade scheduled turf races that are moved to the main track and then consider reinstatement of the original status.