Imagining became a graded stakes winner for the first time when he used a clean stalking trip to capture the $250,000 Red Smith Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the grass by half a length at Aqueduct Racecourse Nov. 16 (VIDEO).
The Phipps Stable homebred was guided to victory while wide throughout by Joel Rosario, who was aboard the 5-year-old Imagining for the first time as a replacement for the injured John Velazquez.
A son of Giant's Causeway out of the multiple graded stakes winner Daydreaming, by A.P. Indy, Imagining completed the 1 3/8-mile distance in 2:18.43 over firm going while defeating 11 rivals. Fast-closing Hangover Kid was up for second under Irad Ortiz Jr. at odds of 23-1, a nose better than the filly Tannery, who also finished willingly for Alex Solis.
Hyper, the 3-2 favorite, finished eighth after tiring.
Trained by Shug McGaughey, Imagining earned his seventh lifetime win from 14 starts while boosting his earnings to $513,114. The good-looking chestnut was coming off a victory in the Bowl Game overnight stakes on the inner turf course at Belmont Park Oct. 17.
"(Joel) let him settle in and get to the outside, which is where he wanted to be," said the Hall of Fame trainer who won the 2011 and 2012 Red Smiths with Boisterous. "I was glad to see that; I said to myself when they were going down the backside, 'I hope he punches from here' because it would be something different for him. It was a pretty good bunch of horses; I think we're moving on up."
Imagining, the 3-1 second choice, raced mid-pack on the outside after being angled off the rail as 9-year-old Mission Approved set the tempo over Nutello and Slip and Drive. Mission Approved led by about two lengths early while carving comfortable fractions of :25.05, :50.92, 1:16.95, and 1:41.63.
Advanced into fourth with nothing in his path, Imagining was on the move from the quarter pole while three wide. He snatched the advantage near the furlong mark as the front-runners gave way and proved a determined winner under urging from Rosario as Hangover Kid and Tannery drew close with their late bids.
"I thought he'd be racing on the lead or in second, but he broke a little slowly and I had to race behind horses," said Rosario. "They weren't going all that fast, and we were able to move up. I asked him turning for home, and he gave it to me."
Imagining paid $8.30, $4.70, and $4.10 while keying a $156.50 exacta. Hangover Kid, who was 10th at the three-eighths pole, returned $16.20 and $9.70. The Irish-bred filly Tannery paid $4.30 after trailing for much of the way.
Slip and Drive was fourth, followed by Sky Blazer, Artic North, Howe Great, Hyper, Mission Approved, Exclusive Strike, Sandyinthesun, and Nutello. Quick Casablanca was scratched and Percussion was entered for the main track only.
McGaughey said the $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IIT) Dec. 14 is under consideration for Imagining, "or we may wait until Florida to run him." Imagining has experience over the Betfair Hollywood Park turf course, running second to Ultimate Eagle in the 2011 Hollywood Derby (gr. IT).
The Red Smith had been a grade II event since it was known as Edgemere Handicap in 1981, but was reduced a level for this year's 54th renewal.