Walter Swinburn's Legendary attended the pace in the $200,000 Knickerbocker Stakes (gr. IIIT) and kicked clear to hold off 2-1 favorite Up With the Birds Oct. 11 at Belmont Park, collecting his first graded score (VIDEO).
It was also the first graded win for Fair Hill-based conditioner Niall Saville, a former steeplechase jockey who began training on his own in 2008.
Off at odds of 4-1 in a field scratched down to six due to yielding ground, 5-year-old Legendary raced well in third under jockey Sheldon Russell as Plainview galloped off to the early lead 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Winning Cause. The pacesetter went opening fractions of :23.90 and :49.07 with Winning Cause creeping closer, but both tired after completing three-quarters in 1:14.30 over the taxing ground.
Legendary, winner of the Sept. 6 Japan Racing Association Stakes at Laurel Park in his last start, was ready to pick up the pieces and did so with a strong move around the turn under Russell's hand ride. The Exceed And Excel gelding struck the front straightening out for home and carried on through a 1:38.94 mile to victory by 1 1/4 lengths.
"It was a perfect set-up," Russell said. "I know the inside horses had a little bit of speed; I was happy that (Legendary) broke well and put me in a great spot with such a short run into the first turn. After then, well, he's so good. As long as he's on the outside, he comes home real good. Being from England, he'd run on softer courses, so I knew today wasn't going to be a problem for him."
The final time for the 1 1/8-mile event on the inner turf course was 1:51.65.
"This is my first graded stakes; this horse won my first stake a month ago," Saville remarked. "I'm very, very pleased. I was a little nervous with the long stretch here, but they weren't catching him.
"It's a huge honor to train for Walter Swinburn, and for them to send me a horse like this it's just been great. I'd won at Saratoga Race Course and at Aqueduct Racetrack, but until this year I hadn't gotten it done at Belmont. This race had been the goal."
Two-time Sovereign Award winner Up With the Birds, Canada's 2013 Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male, closed with a strong last-to-first rally but ran out of ground to catch the winner. Mshawish was 1 1/2 lengths farther back in third.
Legendary returned $10.20, $4.80, and $2.90, while Up With the Birds paid $3.60 and $2.70, with Mshawish bringing $2.90. Plainview, Speaking of Which, and Winning Cause completed the order of finish. Za Approval and Tricky Hat were scratched, and Easter Gift was entered for the main track only.
Bred in Great Britain by Genesis Green Stud out of the Polar Falcon mare Red Carnation, Legendary improved his record to 6-5-2 from 19 starts, good for earnings of $293,219. The Knickerbocker was his fourth victory from six outings since coming to the U.S. this spring.