Strapping Groom made short work of a short field, drawing away to win by 6 1/2 lengths in the $98,000 Gravesend Handicap at Aqueduct Racetrack Dec. 21 (VIDEO).
The 6-year-old Johannesburg horse pressed a pace set by 30-1 shot Abra, put that one away handily coming off the turn, and headed home under confident handling from jockey Junior Alvarado.
Although he carried top assignment of 121 in the six-furlong Gravesend, grade I winner Strapping Groom was getting a 14-pound break from his previous assignment of 135 pounds, which he toted in the Nov. 28 Fall Highweight Handicap (gr. III) when runner-up to Palace by 1 1/2 lengths.
Palace was the 3-4 favorite in a field of five older runners in the Gravesend off victories in three straight stakes, but finished a well-distanced second. After Abra led through a quarter in :22.21 and a half in :45.83, Strapping Groom took over from the two path and widened the distance to four lengths while running five-eighths in :57.58. He finished in 1:09.74 on a good track.
"We broke good," Alvarado said. "As soon as Abra passed me, I just kept going without really chasing him, not wanting a fight. Turning for home, I asked him, and didn't think I'd get beat with the way that he kicked in at the end. It worked out pretty good; he was 100% on his game today."
It was Strapping Groom's first win for Drawing Away Stable and David Jacobson since he upset the Aug. 31 Forego Stakes (gr. I) at odds of 15-1 at Saratoga Race Course. He was third in the Vosburgh Invitational (gr. I) in September and fourth in the Bold Ruler Handicap (gr. III) in October before his runner-up finish in the Fall Highweight. Claimed by his current connections May 24 at Belmont Park for $35,000, Strapping Groom also won the Lion Cavern and Kid Russell overnight stakes this summer.
"If he's not quite back to (the form demonstrated in) that Forego race, he's definitely headed in that direction," said Jacobson. "He came out of the Fall Highweight like a million dollars and has been getting better and better. He had a quarter-crack (after the Forego) we were working on. I was being a little aggressive running him, and he still ran well. That's all grown out now and it's a thing of the past."
Strapping Groom returned $5.40, $2.50, and $2.10 as the 8-5 second choice, while Palace brought $2.10 and $2.10, and Abra paid $3.60. Broad Rule and Battier completed the order of finish; Frazil scratched.
Bred in Kentucky by Kinsman Farm out of the Silver Deputy mare Something Silver, Strapping Groom improved his record to 9-6-2 from 26 starts with earnings of $796,713.
According to trainer Linda Rice, Palace will still target the Feb. 1 Toboggan (gr. III) at Aqueduct.
"I think it would have been better if they had gone faster early on, but what are you going to do. He ran well," she said.