Magalen O. Bryant's V. E. Day strung three victories in a row and collected his first stakes score July 25 in the $100,000 Curlin Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, giving jockey Jose Lezcano his 2,000th career win (VIDEO).
"I feel very lucky to be in this business and do good," Lezcano said after collecting his milestone triumph on the 8-1 shot.
Off to a slow start and content to trail in the field of nine sophomores, V. E. Day rallied four wide and edged out Charge Now by a head in a three-way photo that included 3-1 favorite Protonico , a nose behind in third.
According to trainer Jimmy Jerkens, the English Channel colt could be Travers Stakes (gr. I) bound. Jerkens already has Twinspires.com Wood Memorial (gr. I) winner Wicked Strong likely for that Aug. 23 event.
V. E. Day came off a July 2 allowance score by two lengths going 1 1/8 miles on the inner turf at Belmont Park. That victory came after breaking his maiden by half a length in a one mile off-the-turf event at Belmont May 10 in the slop.
"He's bred top and bottom turf and ran very well on the turf last time. But he trained so well on the dirt, I wanted to give him a chance, and this was a nice spot to run him against straight 3-year-olds," Jerkens said. "I still don't know if he's better on turf or dirt, to be honest with you.
"He was coming off a mile and an eighth. I wasn't sure what I was going to do, but he worked very nice over here the other day (on the main track). We worked him around two turns and he couldn't have worked any better, as far as working nice and even all the way. So, we decided to give it a shot."
In the 1 1/8-mile Curlin, it was longshot Tiz'naz who edged ahead in the scramble for the early lead, setting opening fractions of :24.06 and :47.96 while under pressure from Joint Custody, both toting top weight of 123 pounds.
Those two raced on even terms to clock three-quarters in 1:12.27, before Joint Custody edged ahead to take the lead through the final turn. But V. E. Day had the tiring front-runner in his sights and despite failing to change leads, gamely closed ground through a mile in 1:37.91 to score.
"He settled into a nice ground-saving trip," Jerkens said. "I thought the first quarter was a little slow, but then they picked it up. It turned out to be a legitimate pace, and he looked comfortable back there. I thought if he was good enough, he'd have a chance to get something.
"I knew he'd be back there. On paper, it looked like there would be a ton of speed in there. It looked like it was a little bit of a cavalry charge going into the turn there, and we were tucked in behind there, saving ourselves. I thought if he liked the dirt good enough and was classy enough like I thought he was, I thought he'd be tough."
Final time for the distance was 1:50.51 on a fast track. V. E. Day carried 119 pounds.
"My horse did everything so easy to the quarter pole," Lezcano remarked. "He saw the horses and kept running. I didn't want to break that sharp; I wanted him to settle and come running like he did last time at Belmont. I saved ground the whole way, and when he asked me he gave me a kick."
Lezcano, a 29-year-old Panama native and graduate of that country's acclaimed Laffit Pincay Jr. Jockey School, hangs his tack on the New York circuit. He is best-known for his success in high-stakes situations with horses such as Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) winner Wise Dan, who he piloted when the two-time Horse of the Year's regular rider John Velazquez was injured. He has been the leading rider at Monmouth Park, Gulfstream Park, The Meadowlands, and Tampa Bay Downs, and recently enjoyed a banner day when sweeping three stakes in a row July 6 at Belmont Park.
V. E. Day returned $18.20, $7.10, and $4.70 while Charge Now brought $7.70 and $5.20, with Protonico paying $3.80. Viva Majorca, Spot, Joint Custody, Life in Shambles, Tiz'naz, and Cousin Stephen completed the order of finish. Commanding Curve scratched to run in the July 26 Jim Dandy (gr. II).
Bred in Kentucky by Bluegrass Hall from of the Deputy Minister mare California Sunset, V. E. Day was a $135,000 purchase by Chester Stables at the 2013 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s March selected sale of 2-year-olds in training when consigned by Eddie Woods. Prior to that sale, he was knocked down for $102,000 to Bradley Thoroughbreds at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale from the Denali Stud consignment.
The Curlin victory improved his record to three wins and a second from five starts and earnings of $159,010.
From the sound of things, WinStar Farm's Charge Now looks probable to contest the "Midsummer Derby."
"I thought it was a great effort," Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said. "He was a little green when (V. E. Day) went by him and he came back again. We want to win the Travers, anyway."