Twin Creeks Racing Stables' Red Rifle returned to dirt and delivered the latest in a line of satisfying stakes scores for jockey Florent Geroux Nov. 29, winning the $250,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Hawthorne Race Course as part of the young rider's banner year (VIDEO).
The 4-year-old Giant's Causeway gelding went gate-to-wire in the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup at odds of 6-1, picking up his first graded victory by 2 1/4 lengths while finishing over a fast track in 2:03.24. It was Red Rifle's first start on dirt since a fourth-place finish in the May 11 Westchester Stakes (gr. III) won by Palace Malice going a mile on the Belmont Park main track.
The chestnut gelding came off a runner-up finish in the 1 1/2-mile Sycamore Stakes (gr. IIIT) over the Keeneland lawn Oct. 16 after winning the Yankee Affair Stakes going the same distance on the Belmont grass Sept. 6 for trainer Todd Pletcher. He did set a track record on dirt, however, in winning the Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park going 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.73.
Geroux, a 28-year-old Frenchman who has hung his tack in the Midwest since 2008, is enjoying a career-best season. He posted his first Breeders' Cup victory—the Xpressbet Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) with Work All Week—and swept three stakes on Arlington Million (gr. IT) preview day earlier this summer with American Derby (gr. IIIT) winner Divine Oath, Modesty Handicap (gr. IIIT) victress I'm Already Sexy, and Stars and Stripes Handicap (gr. IIIT) winner The Pizza Man.
Geroux also came back to take the American St. Leger with The Pizza Man, and counts the Kentucky Turf Cup (gr. IIIT) at Kentucky Downs with Suntracer and the Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix (gr. IIIT) at Keeneland with Work All Week among his stakes scores in 2014.
"This was a great month," Geroux said. "It was great to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint, but it was also nice to win this. This was special to me to win at home. This is where I started. This is where I learned to be a better jockey. This is where I honed my craft..
"The Breeders' Cup is big money and is on TV, but this race is special to me too. I used to ride here every day and this is the signature race."
Breaking readily from the start after a delay caused by 3-1 favorite Cary Street, who reared in the gate and wound up no factor, Red Rifle struck out for the lead to get a quarter in :23.89 and a half in :48.62 while never threatened. Geroux let out the reins a little to increase their advantage through three-quarters in 1:12.81, and the duo went a 1:37.87 mile with a 1 1/2-length margin over Abraham, who had been in second throughout.
Shaking clear at the head of the stretch, Red Rifle opened a 3 1/2-length gap and then held safe under an energetic hand ride. Mister Marti Gras rallied after swinging six wide to gain the place, just outfinishing Call Me George.
"I never rode him before but I saw a lot of his races," Geroux said of Red Rifle. "He's been running in a lot of those mile and a half races. I knew he was a nice horse (and) it was nice to see him back on dirt. He really liked it.
"On paper it looked like there were a few horses that were going to go for the lead. Todd told me to just break sharp and if he made the lead, fine, if not just sit off the pace. I wasn't going to use him hard to make the lead and have him get tired in the stretch. Just make sure I had something left in the tank. The horse re-broke at the quarter pole. That was nice."
Red Rifle returned $14.80, $7.60, and $4.80. Mister Marti Gras paid $5.60 and $3.80, with Call Me George bringing $10.20. Effinex, Ever Rider, Street Spice, Fordubai, Abraham, Cary Street, Hattaash, and Midnight Aria completed the order of finish.
Bred in Kentucky by Twin Creeks Farm, Tom Clark, and Nancy Clark out of the Gulch mare May Night, Red Rifle improved his career record to five wins and four seconds from 13 starts and increased his earnings to $412,520.