Peter Vegso's homebred Orchard Park rallied through the stretch to defeat Mr. Mellon by a length in Saturday's $277,500 Jefferson Cup Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs. On the firm turf course, Orchard Park completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.53 under Mark Guidry.
Trailing the eight-horse field after a moderately paced opening quarter-mile, Orchard Park moved up to seventh as the paced quickened in the next two quarters. Forget the Judge and Red Masque alternated on the lead through the early stages of the race, with Forget the Judge reclaiming the lead while racing six furlongs in 1:11. Quest Star had moved up to second by that point with February Storm third, a head-length in front of Mr. Mellon. Orchard Park raced wide into the stretch and angled out for the drive, when he accelerated under left handed urging from Guidry.
"I had to steady briefly in the stretch," said Guidry. "I was looking to split the horses in front of me when one of them sort of stepped in front of me. I'm just glad it opened back up and I got around them. I was able to get through then and that was it."
Mr. Mellon finished 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Quest Star, with February Storm another 3 1/4 lengths farther back. Grey Beard, Windward Passage, Red Masque, and Forget the Judge completed the order of finish.
"I thought my horse ran a big race," said Mr. Mellon's jockey Larry Melancon. "I thought we had it when we straightened away, but we couldn't hold off the other horse."
Orchard Park earned $172,050 for the win, his fifth in 10 career starts and fifth in seven starts on turf. The son of Hennessy came into the race off a third-place finish in the Crown Royal American Turf (gr. IIIT). Prior to that race, he won four straight races, including the Palm Beach (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream Park in February. Bill Mott trains the 3-year-old chestnut colt.
The 6-5 favorite, Orchard Park paid $4.40, $2.80, and $2.20 and topped the $18.80 exacta. Mr. Mellon returned $3.80 and $3.20. Quest Star was worth $5 to show. (Chart, Equibase