Data Link soars past Eagle in Citation

Data Link, hero of the Grade 1 Maker's Mark Mile and Grade 2 Monmouth Stakes in course-record time earlier this year, was coming off a pair of losses

Stuart S. Janney III's homebred Data Link overhauled Ultimate Eagle in midstretch of Friday's Grade 2, $250,000 Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park, spoiling the comeback of the 2-1 favorite. A Belmont Park shipper from the barn of Shug McGaughey, Data Link burst 2 1/4 lengths clear to earn his third graded stakes of the season. The 5-2 second choice, who paid $7, $3.80 and $2.60, was also handing new rider Garrett Gomez his fourth win on the card.

Data Link, hero of the Grade 1 Maker's Mark Mile and Grade 2 Monmouth Stakes in course-record time earlier this year, was coming off a pair of losses. The elegant bay couldn't catch Dominus while giving him eight pounds in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga September 1, and he was most recently a troubled fifth to Wise Dan in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland October 6.

With Gomez aboard, Data Link secured a good tactical position within striking range of the pacesetting Ultimate Eagle. The confirmed front runner had not been seen since tiring badly in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap on March 3, but showed no rustiness when blasting right out of the gate.

Ultimate Eagle got away with an opening quarter in :24 on the firm turf. Down the backstretch, an eager Tale of a Champion drew alongside Ultimate Eagle and matched strides briefly. Then Tale of a Champion's rider, Rafael Bejarano, steered him wide to get him to ease off the throttle a bit. Ultimate Eagle regained the sole advantage through a half in :47 4/5, and after reaching six furlongs in 1:11 4/5, he kicked away in hopes of delivering the coup de grace.

But Data Link was smoothly advancing into contention on the outside. Ultimate Eagle couldn't get much separation, and might have begun to feel the nearly nine-month layoff. Data Link readily went by the longtime leader and drew off in short order, stopping the teletimer in 1:41 for 1 1/16 miles.

Gomez has now won the Citation a record four times, including back-to-back renewals. Last year he rode Jeranimo to victory, but didn't stay on the defending champion Friday and instead picked up the mount on Data Link. Jeranimo ended up fourth in his title defense.

"I warmed him up good and he warmed up well," Gomez said of Data Link. "He bounced away from there and put me in a good spot. From there I could decide whether to ease back or stay where I was. He always traveled beautiful for me. I felt we weren't going too fast.

"The only thinking I really had to do with him was from the five-eighths pole to the far turn. There were a couple of horses who were switching places (moving in and out) and I had to decide whether to stay inside or come around. I hit the front so soon, I didn't know what he was going to be like. I never gave him a chance to ease himself down. When I got into him, he really went."

"We're very pleased with the way he ran today and very pleased with the way Garrett Gomez rode him," McGaughey said via telephone. "They went slow early, but then they picked it up and Gomez was in a great spot. He got shuffled back last time (in the Shadwell Turf Mile), lost all his position and then he was wide on the turn. We think he's a pretty good little horse."

The deep-closing Doubles Partner was along for third, a half-length back of Ultimate Eagle.

"We were able to get some cover and he settled nicely down the backstretch," Mike McCarthy, Todd Pletcher's assistant, said of Doubles Partner. "He had to wait a little bit at the three-eighths to the quarter-pole and finished up well."

Jeranimo, Ultimate Eagle's stablemate from the Mike Pender barn, made little impact from off the pace in fourth. Temple's Door, Tale of a Champion and Interaction rounded out the order under the wire, and Calimonco was scratched.

Data Link's scorecard now stands at 15-7-1-1, $673,835. Long well regarded, the War Front colt won three in a row on turf over the fall and winter of 2010-11, but unfortunately missed the heart of his three-year-old campaign through injury. Fourth in his comeback in last fall's Shady Character Stakes on soft turf at Belmont Park, Data Link rolled to an impressive third-level allowance score at Gulfstream Park in December. Data Link next tried graded company in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf at Gulfstream on March 3, closing for third on a speed-friendly surface.

After his breakthrough in the April 13 Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland, Data Link tried to follow up in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day, but wound up a rough-trip fifth in a race dominated by the front-running Little Mike. Data Link rebounded in style in the June 10 Monmouth Stakes, where he blitzed 1 1/8 grassy miles in a course-record 1:45 4/5.

"He'll ship back Monday, then see we'll see how he's doing," McGaughey said of his plans for Data Link.

The Kentucky-bred Data Link hopes to kick off a Thanksgiving weekend double for his immediate family. He is out of the stakes-winning Known Fact mare Database, a full sister to stakes queen Vespers, the dam of Grade 1 Donn Handicap hero Hymn Book. On Saturday, Hymn Book hopes to add to his resume in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile.

Data Link, who is himself a half-brother to Challenger Stakes runner-up Wiki, comes from the family of Grade 3 heroine Strike the Bell, Grade 2 winners Kumari Continent and Roshani and multiple stakes scorers Citizen Advocate and Binalong.

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