Arnold Zetcher's homebred Smart Transition picked up his first black type victory July 31 at Saratoga Race Course, kicking into gear off the turn and drawing away to win the $100,000 Curlin Stakes by 4 3/4 lengths.
Video: Curlin S. (BT)
The 3-year-old Smart Strike colt took over from 8-5 favorite Stanford in early stretch and carried on to secure his second career victory from six starts for trainer John Shirreffs.
"It was really special for us," Shirreffs said. "We were very happy with his performance; it was something we hoped for, so it was nice to see it actually happen. He's a good stalker. He was in a beautiful position, and (jockey) Junior (Alvarado) gave him a perfect ride. We wanted a clean trip and we got a clean trip; everything worked out well."
Smart Transition, coming off a fourth in the July 4 Dwyer Stakes (gr. III), got a ground-saving trip in fourth under jockey Junior Alvarado, keeping the front-running trio of Stanford, Battle Midway, and Tekton within his sights.
With Stanford between horses but those three neck and neck up the backside, the first quarter went in :23.85 with a half in :47.70 en route to three-quarters in 1:12.14.
Battle Midway gave ground as the field turned for home, while Alvarado was swinging Smart Transition four-wide to launch his rally. The bay colt found more to give through a 1:37.45 mile, and soared clear of the rest.
Final time for the 1 1/8-mile test was 1:50.40.
"I knew two turns would help him to be a little closer," Alvarado said. "We ran two times at Belmont and it was a little harder but I knew the turns would help him. He broke very sharp. He put himself in a good spot. I hit him a couple times by the eighth pole and he took off. By the sixteenth pole, I was on cruise control until the end."
The winner returned $6.30, $3.10, and $2.80 while Tekton held for second ($3.40 and $2.80). King of New York closed to get third, worth $3.90. Battle Midway, Stanford, and Unrivaled completed the order of finish.
Smart Transition was bred in Kentucky out of the grade II-winning Crimson Tide mare Zardana, whose claim to fame was a victory in the 2010 New Orleans Ladies Stakes over Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra. His record now stands at 2-1-1 from those six starts, for earnings of $147,160.
Asked whether Smart Transition will run in the Aug. 29 Travers Stakes (gr. I), Shirreffs was non-committal.
"He's a pretty nice horse," he simply said. "I knew the two turns here would help him big time and he showed that."