Kharafa, Mah Jong Maddnes Shine at Belmont
Kharafa had a an ideal trip to comfortably win the $125,000 Kingston Stakes from familiar rival Lubash May 31 at Belmont Park (VIDEO).
Turning the tables on the favored Lubash, who defeated him last time out in an allowance/optional claimer at Aqueduct Racetrack, Kharafa won by a lmeasured ength in the one-mile race for 3-year-olds.
The Kingston was the first of a half dozen stakes on Saturday's card—and the first of two on the grass—for New York-breds. Two races later, Mah Jong Maddnes held on to win the $125,000 Mount Vernon Stakes over 2-5 choice Effie Trinket.
With keen 7-year-old Lubash in fourth early in the Kingston, then sixth for Junior Alvarado, Paul Braverman and Timothy Pinch's Kharafa was ideally positioned in second, just in behind Street Game, who led through fractions of :23.17 and :46.38 for a half-mile, and then immediately faded when Kharafa bid alongside after six furlongs in 1:09.97.
Alvarado let the reins out a notch on Lubash nearing the five-sixteenths pole and the son of Freud took aim on Kharafa, who had a one-length lead entering the stretch, and vigorously pursued him down the stretch to be second best.
"Perfect trip; I was right where I wanted to be," Castellano said Kharafa's trip in the race. "I didn't see much pace in the race, my horse broke sharp and he put me in a good spot.
"Basically, today I was just a pilot, and he took me to the wire. I didn't think anybody could catch him, because I felt him going very fast."
Hidden Vow, a 53-1 longshot toting Rajiv Maragh, was just a three lengths back in third after rallying from last in the eight-horse field.
Kharafa, the 123 top weight and second favorite, covered the distance in 1:32.85 on firm turf to add a third stakes win to his record. He paid $6.80, $3.40, and $2.80 across the board. Lubash, the slight 2-1 choice, returned $3.40 and $2.80. Hidden Vow paid $10 to show.
Completing the order of finish were Compliance Officer, Notacatbutallama, Hear the Footsteps, Special Selection, and Street Game.
Trained by Timothy Hills, Kharafa has a 7-6-2 record from 21 career starts. The 5-year-old gelding by Kitalpha is out of the unraced King of Kings mare Exquisite Cassie. The Kingston was his first win from three starts this year.
Kharafa was making his fifth start for his current connections, who acquired from the estate of his breeder, Lawrence Durocher Jr., who died in 2013. Durocher bred in him in the name of High Meadow Farm.
Two races later on the card, state-bred fillies and mares took to the grass in the Mount Vernon, which was controlled throughout by Mah Jong Maddnes, who held on to win by three-quarters of a length (VIDEO).
Angling three wide into the stretch with Mah Jong Maddnes leading by 1 1/2 lengths, favorite Effie Trinket was hard-ridden by Luis Saez to close ground. She failed to overhaul Mah Jong Maddnes, who got a change in running style from her usual waiting tactics to earn her first stakes win.
Breaking from the inside post with Taylor Rice, homebred Mah Jong Maddnes was pressed by Lady's Lunar Luck through an opening quarter in :24.36 and a half-mile in :47.61, with Effie Trinket in fourth, then fifth after starting from the four hole.
Effie Trinket advanced on the far turn, and Mah Jong Maddnes extended her advantage to 1 1/2 lengths under light coaxing at the quarter pole. Roused at the eighth pole as Effie Trinket rallied with plenty of energy, but Mah Jong Maddnes held on for the win in 1:34.42 for the one-mile contest on firm going.
"We were a little worried about pace, on paper," Rice said. "But we broke on top, and I have a pretty good relationship with her that I can take a big hold.
"She settled for me real nice. When she did that, I thought, 'Now all we have to do is wait it out.' When we got to the head of the lane I had loads of horse left."
Mah Jong Madness is perfect in two starts this year after winning her season debut going six furlongs at Belmont Park May 11. The 5-year-old Freud mare has an overall record of 6-1-4 from 23 starts with John Morrison, who trains for Very Un Stable.
Joseph Gioia of Very Un Stable said he was surprised to see Mah Jong Maddnes at the front early.
"I have to give credit to the jockey," he said. "We were very surprised to see her on the lead, but with the :24 first quarter it probably was the right move. Obviously, the results speak for themselves."
"She, like many other Freuds, has gotten better and better with age. If they can stay sound and stay healthy, they just keep getting better. We see it every year. We took her to South Carolina, which has done a tremendous job with her conditioning and schooling. Going up and down the hills there has just strengthened her so much."
Very Un Stable bred Maj Jong Maddnes out of the winning Jules mare Para Vidinha.
Lady's Lunar Luck hung on for third in the seven-horse field, two lengths behind Effie Trinket.
The 5-1 second choice, Mah Jong Maddnes returned $13.20, $3.90 and $3. Odds-on Effie Trinket, under top weight of 117 pounds, paid $2.30 and $2.10 while 26-1 longshot Lady's Lunar Luck brought $5.50.
Roses for Romney was fourth, with Dreaming of Cara, Frosty Bay, Miz Owell following across the finish line.
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