Rock Fall continued his dazzling win streak and stepped up to the top level with a game performance in the $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I) Aug. 1 at Saratoga Race Course, edging grade I winner The Big Beast in a photo at the line.
The 4-year-old son of Speightstown , who won the 2004 edition of the Vanderbilt for trainer Todd Pletcher, has not been defeated in six straight starts at the six-furlong distance and is 4-for-4 in 2015. Making his grade I debut, he would not allow 2014 King's Bishop (gr. I) winner The Big Beast past him, as they duked it out in the final strides.
"He finished powerfully and we were fortunate to be on the right side of a very close head bob," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "It's tough to win a photo against a horse as big as The Big Beast. If you're head-and-head, he's got a head on you. We got a fortunate bob and it was a great horse race."
It was the first grade I win for Stonestreet Stables' Rock Fall, who last time out won the June 5 True North Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park. Javier Castellano was in the irons aboard the bay colt, who closed from third to run down his game rival in the nick of time, while favored at even money in a field of seven.
"It was too close to call," Castellano said. "The bob could have gone either way. I was lucky it went my way."
The Big Beast, 7-2 second choice in his first start off a layup and racing for the first time since a fourth in the April 4 Carter Handicap (gr. I), held a determined second by a nose. Pacesetter Favorite Tale was third, two lengths behind a final time of 1:08.75 on a fast track.
Favorite Tale headed out to the early lead as expected in the Vanderbilt, with The Big Beast tracking a length back and Rock Fall keeping close about another length behind in third. The opening quarter went in :22.74 with a half in :45.31, before The Big Beast took over with a determined charge for home.
Rock Fall was in close pursuit, however, and hooked up with his more accomplished rival down the lane before catching him just in time.
"He was a really nice horse the way he did it today, off the pace," Castellano added. "There was a lot of speed in the race and he covered up perfect. Turning for home, I let him go outside. That's where he likes it and it paid off today. My horse fought back to win the race. I give all the credit to him."
"(In the stretch), I thought we had him, and then I thought he was coming back and he had us, and Javier said The Big Beast just re-rallied," Pletcher said. "It wasn't like Rock Fall was slowing down, they were coming home. The True North was a good field. These were some really top horses. ... This was a big win."
"I thought our horse was good. I thought Johnny (Velazquez) was good. I thought it was all good—and I thought we lost the bob. ... He broke well, like he does, and picked it up when Rock Fall came for him."
The winner returned $4, $3, and $2.40, while The Big Beast paid $4.10 and $2.80, with Favorite Tale bringing $3.20 at odds of 5-1. Salutos Amigos, Viva Majorca, Clearly Now, and Departing completed the order of finish.
Rock Fall was bred in Kentucky by SF Bloodstock, out of the Medaglia d'Oro mare Renda, and was a $250,000 purchase from the Woods Edge consignment at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton New York Saratoga select yearling sale. His record now stands at six wins from seven starts for earnings of $509,180.