Favored Bern Identity stalked a hot pace before sweeping to victory over front-running Handsome Jack in the $200,000 Sanford Stakes (gr. II) for 2-year-olds at Saratoga Race Course July 22 (VIDEO).
The victory was a first in the six-furlong Sanford for jockey Rosie Napravnik, trainer Kelly Breen, and owners George and Lori Hall. Bern Identity, a son of Bernstein, has won two of three starts in his brief career. He was coming off a front-running 13 3/4-length blitzing of maiden special weight rivals going five furlongs at Belmont Park June 1.
Facing seven rivals as the 9-5 pick in the Sanford, Bern Identity was timed in 1:11.13 while edging Handsome Jack by 1 1/4 lengths. Bern Identity earned an extra $100,000 bonus as a maiden victor in New York to win a graded stakes in the state under an incentive offered by New York Racing Association. As a result, he banked $220,000 for the Sanford victory.
"The extra $100,000 bonus makes it all sweeter," Breen said. "So, thanks, NYRA!"
Bern Identity signaled a fondness for the Saratoga track when he blew out three furlongs in a bullet :34 2/5 July 15.
"He's a fast horse," Breen said. "After he won, he came back and worked extremely fast. That kind of indicated to me he was the real deal. That's how I feel in my heart anyway."
Bern Identity was able to save ground in fourth while rated behind Handsome Jack. The latter popped the gate for Joel Rosario from his rail post and engaged in a spirited tussle on the front end with Brave Dave, who broke from post 2. Handsome Jack, maintaining a slight lead over Brave Dave, burned through an opening quarter mile in :21.60 and the half in :44.70.
Handsome Jack took control at the head of the stretch when Brave Dave drifted out badly off the turn, but Bern Identity would cut into the advantage to draw even on the outside at mid-stretch. Bern Identity, under right-hand urging from Napravnik, prevailed under steady encouragement.
"We weren't quite as forwardly placed as I thought we might be, but the pace was extremely fast," said Napravnik, who rode Bern Identity for the first time in last month's maiden win. "He just hung in there down on the rail and finished strongest coming for home."
It was not the cleanest of trips for Bern Identity, who brushed with Hightail at the start and was hustled by Napravnik to hold his position on the inside of Rose Junction. After angling out in upper stretch under a left-handed whip, Bern Identity rallied nicely, however, while kept to his task.
"They outran him a little bit in the beginning; I was a little surprised," Breen said. "Maybe the fast workout last week took a little bit out of him. But he showed his grit, got a little bit of dirt in his face and ran nice.
"He didn't break great, but in the blink of an eye we were a length behind. (Napravnik) had to ride him coming out of there. Around the turn it was a little nerve-wracking; is he going to keep coming? She never had a chance to give him a breather. She sat on him a little bit around the turn and then asked him to go again. He showed a lot of grit. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think he was a nice horse. We take our chances coming to New York, and when we show up we're here for a reason."
Considering the early tempo, Handsome Jack did well to hold second by a three-quarters of a length over the oncoming Onetwentyeight, ridden by Rajiv Maragh.
Bred in Kentucky by Galleria Bloodstock, Crosshaven Bloodstock, Petaluma Bloodstock, et al., Bern Identity is out of the graded stakes winner Maddalena, by Good and Tough. The bay colt sold for $75,000 as a yearling at Keeneland in September 2011.
"(At the sale) I think Kelly said he liked him, and he wasn't too expensive," said co-owner George Hall. "That was good enough for me. We'll see how he comes out of the race and see what's between here and the Breeders' Cup. Obviously, that's where we'd like to get."
Bern Identity debuted with a runner-up effort on a sloppy track going five furlongs at Belmont May 9. His earnings stand at $276,000.
Carrying 119 pounds, the winner paid $5.60, $4, and $3.40. Handsome Jack, a runner-up in an overnight stakes at Belmont in his previous start June 27, returned $4.50 and $3.50 for trainer Wesley Ward. Onetwentyeight, one of two starters for trainer Todd Pletcher, paid $5.10 to show.
Pletcher, who was seeking his sixth Sanford victory, also saddled 2-1 second choice Rose Junction, who came up empty in the stretch.
Brave Dave recovered from the blown turn to finish fourth, followed by John Gordon, Special Jo, Hightail, and Rose Junction.
Good Tickled scratched.