Charles Fipke's homebred Jersey Town bounded past pacesetter and 9-5 second choice Shackleford in the stretch to pull off an 8-1 upset in the $400,000 Kelso Handicap (gr. II) Sept. 29 at Belmont Park (VIDEO).
The son of Speightstown covered the one-turn mile over a good main track in 1:35.24 under jockey Javier Castellano, topping the Met Mile (gr. I) winner by 3 1/2 lengths and earning an all-expenses paid automatic berth in the Nov. 3 Breeders' Cup Dirt MIle (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park.
Trickmeister finished three-quarters of a length back in third and was followed by favorite To Honor and Serve, Golddigger's Boy, and Tapizar in the field of six. Isn't He Perect, Gallant Fields, and Pacific Ocean were scratched.
Shackleford was hustled out of the gate by jockey Ramon Dominguez to get the lead and set early fractions of :22.54 and :45.02 while being pressed by Trickmeister a length back. Jersey Town was tucked along the rail while cruising along with Tapizar. To Honor and Serve broke a bit slow, and inched up from last to fourth heading into the turn.
Jersey Town pressed to the front on the turn and quickly passed Shackleford to get the lead, then separated himself from the rest of the field. The six-furlong time was 1:09.31.
"It worked out great; it was a hot pace today," Castellano said. "There was a lot speed in the race, and it was a small field. I just followed the best horse in the race. Turning for home, the horses got tired; they started backing up a little bit. My horse is a really nice horse to ride. He split horses and took off, and I'm very satisfied with the way he did it."
The winner paid $18, $6.80, and $5.90. Shackleford paid $4 and $3.80 while Trickmeister returned $5.70 to show.
"I've seen him go faster and keep going," trainer Dale Romans said of Shackleford. "It was a little different track today; I told Ramon to take the race to them and make them pass us. Trickmeister is a fast horse, he was running with us and we were going too fast up front. Jersey Town just ran a big race today. I'd like to have gotten the trophy, but it puts us in a good position going to the Breeders' Cup."
The winner, out of the grade I-winning Belong to Me mare Jersey Girl, is trained by Barclay Tagg and won for the first time since taking Aqueduct's Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) in 2010. In three starts earlier this year he ran second in the 6 1/2-furlong Sir Shackleton Stakes at Gulfstream Park. He was off until the Saratoga meet where he ran sixth in the six-furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I), then finished a sharp third behind Emcee and Hamazing Destiny in the seven-furlong Forego Stakes (gr. I) on Labor Day weekend.
Tagg wasn't sure whether to go in the one-mile Kelso or the six-furlong Vosburgh Invitational Stakes (gr. I) later on the "Super Saturday" card, he said.
"That took a lot of figuring out," the trainer remarked. "I had one reporter angry with me because I told him I was going in the sprint and I went in the mile. I like miles better than sprints, anyway.
"I didn't think I could beat (To Honor and Serve) when he's at his best," Tagg continued. "He looks like a monster horse when he's at his best. Jersey Town just needed to have a couple of races in a row before this one. I thought he needs that kind of thing.
"He's a real hefty horse. He needs to train hard, but he really doesn't have the legs and feet to train hard on. You have to hit a happy medium, and things were just coming together real nicely for him this fall, so we took a shot at it."
Hall of Famer Bill Mott, trainer of beaten favorite and fourth-place finisher To Honor and Serve, said, "He was dull, a little dull. I understood the risk in running him today, but I wanted to run him because I felt it was my best shot five weeks from now in the Breeders' Cup. Whether that turns out to be the case or not, I'll have to answer that question myself in five weeks."
The Kelso improved Jersey Town's record to 6-8-3 from 20 starts, with earnings of $789,688. Last year he ran sixth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I).