By Jerry Bossert
Todd Pletcher recorded his 1,000th career stakes winner when Protonico surged late under Joe Bravo to take the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO) at Parx Racing on the Labor Day Pennsylvania card Sept. 1.
Pletcher became just the second trainer to reach 1,000 stakes wins, behind only his former boss D. Wayne Lukas, with 1,076.
Splitting horses in deep stretch, Protonico caught Classic Giacnroll by a half-length for the Giant's Causeway colt's his third career victory and first graded stakes win from five starts.
The dark bay colt is owned and bred by International Equities Holding, and is out of the A. P. Indy dam Alpha Spirit.
Protonico was exiting a close third in the Curlin Stakes, run at Saratoga July 25, which saw the winner, V. E. Day, come back to take the Aug. 23 Travers Stakes (gr. I). He was sent off as the 7-2 third choice in the mile and 70-yard Smarty Jones in a field of nine 3-year-olds, and was timed in 1:41.17.
Racing in sixth early on, Protonico was caught in some traffic turning for home. Bravo first ducked the dark bay colt to the inside and then tipped back to the outside before finishing full of run to collar Classic Giacnroll in the final strides.
Classic Giacnroll, a 13-1 outsider, rallied up the rail to pass the 7-5 favorite Albano and appeared home free before Protonico found his best stride.
Albano sat the perfect trip under Kerwin Clark to grab the lead in the stretch but was no match for the top two, lasting for third while beaten by 2 1/4 lengths. Almost Famous, Saa Mi, Just Call Kenny, Ain't Got Time, and Grasshoppin completed the order of finish. Joint Custody was pulled up and eased in the stretch. Lynx was an early scratch by trainer Cathal Lynch.
Ain't Got Time provided the pace for six furlongs before fading, carving fractions of :22.73, :46.29, and 1:10.77.
Protonico scored in his debut Sept. 7 of last year at Delaware Park, winning by 12 3/4 lengths before tiring to sixth in the Nashua Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct Racetrack Nov. 3.
He was transferred from trainer Oussama Aboughhazale into Pletcher’s barn this year, taking an optional claiming race at Belmont Park June 25 by two lengths before just missing in the Curlin Stakes when beaten by only a head.
Protonico, boosting his earnings to $259,715, returned $9.20 to win, $4.80 to place and $3 to show. Classic Giacnroll paid $10 to place and $4.40 to show, while Albano returned $2.40 to show.
The Smarty Jones is the local prep race for the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) to be held at Parx Sept. 20. Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) winner California Chrome is expected to make his first start since dead-heating for fourth in the June 7 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) won by Tonalist.