Priscilla Vaccarezza's Little Mike got back on track after four consecutive losses with a narrow upset win in the $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) at Belmont Park Sept. 28 (VIDEO).
Ridden by Mike Smith for trainer Dale Romans, Little Mike rated off honest fractions over a firm turf course, took the lead turning for home and just held off fast-closing Big Blue Kitten , part of a three-horse, 4-5 entry, to win by a nose at 7-1.
Little Mike, bred in Florida by Carlo Vaccarezza, is a 6-year-old gelding by Spanish Steps out of the Wavering Monarch mare Hay Jude. Before the Joe Hirsch, Little Mike's last victory came in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) last November; he had previously finished fifth in the Turf Classic.
"This is a big win for this horse and for the barn," Romans said. "We've had kind of a rough year, and this is our first grade I of the year. He is finally rounding back into form. His form hasn't been that bad if you analyze it. They've gone after him early in his last two races. We needed to change tactics and come from off the pace. Nobody was giving us easy leads like they were last year.
"He just proved how versatile he is. I knew we needed to try something different to get him back to the level where he was last year. It worked, so I want to thank Mr. (Ken) Ramsey for putting the rabbit (Joes Blazing Aaron) in there and changing things around."
Joes Blazing Aaron, part of the Ramsey entry, set early fractions of :23.92, :47.70, and 1:11.57 before he began to fade after one mile in 1:35.70. Little Mike, in a performance similar to his effort in the Breeders' Cup Turf, rated early in fifth before making his move to engage the front pack.
Real Solution and then Big Blue Kitten took their shots at Little Mike in the stretch, but the leader had enough to hold on by the slimmest of margins.
"I was handicapping the race and after looking at it I told Dale that Little Mike's best race, in the Breeders' Cup Turf last year, was when he was off the pace," Smith said. "So I decided I was going to ride this horse the way Ramon (Dominguez) rode him.
"I can mimic all these jocks; I know how they all hold their hands. Ramon always puts one on the neck and one way out, and he's brilliant at it. So I did it, and he kept running and running and running. It worked. My hat's off to Ramon Dominguez."
Little Mike paid $16.80, $5.90, and $4.70 across the board. Big Blue Kitten returned $2.50 and $2.20, and Real Solution $2.20. The exacta paid $46 and the trifecta $173.50.
Little Mike now has 13 victories, all on grass, in 26 starts.