Favored Comma to the Top, making just his second appearance outside of California, proved a tenacious winner of the $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap (gr. III) March 2 at Aqueduct Racetrack, just a week after making his last start (VIDEO).
With Joel Rosario aboard, the grade I winner was passed at the sixteen pole by Saturday's Charm after setting a fast pace, but fought back in the final strides to win the Tom Fool by a short nose in a terrific finish. The final time for the six furlongs was 1:10.26 on a fast Aqueduct inner dirt course.
Sent off as the 2-1 choice in the field of 10, Comma to the Top earned his seventh lifetime stakes win and his fourth in a graded event. The Tom Fool is an important steppingstone to the $400,000 Carter Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct at seven furlongs April 6.
Winner of the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) as a 2-year-old, Comma to the Top made his first start outside of California since finishing 19th in the 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
In his most recent try Feb. 23, Comma to the Top finished third, beaten by less than a length, in the seven-furlong San Carlos Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park after engaging in a heavy pace duel.
Peter Miller trains the game winner for owner Gary Barber, who Miller said wanted to try Comma to the Top in the Tom Fool on short rest. Comma to the Top, a 5-year-old gelding by Bwana Charlie out of the Stormy Atlantic mare Maggies Storm, was bred in Florida by Richard and Linda Thompson.
"He's just an amazing horse," an enthused Miller told HRTV from Santa Anita. "He's like a reincarnation of a horse 50, 60 years ago. He was beat. He was going to be third. I can't say enough about Joel Rosario's ride. He's just a unique horse. He carries weight, he travels. Nothing bothers him.
"We put ourselves out there for some criticism, but I'm so glad the world got see what a unique horse he is."
Breaking from post 2, Comma to the Top took the lead shortly after the start and opened up a 1 1/2-length early advantage along the inside over Head Heart Hoof and Smash on the outside while stepping the opening quarter mile in :22.92. They reached the quarter pole in :46.29. Comma to the Top, still narrowly in front, drifted off the rail coming out of the turn as his challengers drew close.
Comma to the Top brushed with Toboggan Stakes (gr. III) winner Head Heart Hoof in upper stretch while allowing room for Consortium to dive to the inside and threaten for the lead. But on the outside, Saturday's Charm and Junior Alvarado struck the front and appeared to be headed to victory. Comma to the Top, under urging from Rosario, refused to yield, however, getting his nose back in front in the final jump.
"He tries hard, this horse," said Rosario, who rode the Comma to the Top for the first time. "To come in here and show up like that, he's something special. He hung on there and kept going. I didn't know whether I had won, it was tough."
Comma to the Top, whose last victory came in the off-the-turf Daytona Stakes (gr. III) on a wet/fast track Dec. 29 at Santa Anita, improved his record to 12-2-2 in 28 starts with earnings of $1,180,696.
"The horse performed pretty well last time (in the San Carlos), so we took a shot, considering the horse came out of it very good," said Miller's assistant, Martin Contreras. "This guy is a tough fighter, and when in he's in his right moment he fights pretty tough. We got lots of luck (on the photo finish). Thank God on that one!"
Carrying top weight of 118 pounds, Comma to the Top paid $6.30, $4.30, $3.40. Saturday's Charm, a tough-luck loser for trainer Steve Asmussen, returned $8.40 and $5.50 while part of a $51.50 exacta. It was one length back to Head Heart Hoof in third, paying $5.40 with Cornelio Velasquez aboard.
Consortium was fourth, followed by Smash, Be Bullish, second choice Johannesburg Smile, St Liams Halo, Heart Butte, and Off the Jak.