Jackson Bend, the longest shot in the field, held off a flying even-money choice Caleb's Posse by a nose in the final strides to prevail in the $400,000 Carter Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct Racetrack April 7 (VIDEO).
Ridden by Corey Nakatani, Jackson Bend shook loose of pacesetter Shackleford leaving the furlong pole and dug in resolutely for the final sixteenth of a mile as Caleb's Posse charged home.
“The way he was moving, I felt I’d get next to Shackleford, let Shackleford do a little of the dirty work and go," Nakatani said. "And once I got around the turn I was going to see where I was at. When Caleb’s Posse started coming at me … this horse has so much heart. It brings a tear to my eye. He’s Mighty Mouse. He’s so little, 15 hands, but he’s got so much heart.”
Caleb's Posse, last in the field of five before rallying from the three-sixteenths pole, came up just short for Rajiv Maragh while drawing closer with every stride as the two approached the wire.
Million-dollar earners occupied the first spots as Shackleford finished 1 1/2 lengths behind in third. The Godolphin Racing entry of Emcee and Tahitian Warrior followed. The field was reduced to five by the scratch of Tom Fool Handicap (gr. III) winner Calibrachoa with a foot problem.
The final time for the seven-furlong event was 1:22.32 on a fast track.
At odds of 9-2, Jackson Bend was the longest shot in the field for trainer Nick Zito and owners Robert LaPenta and Fred Brei. Jackson Bend improved to 4-for-4 at the seven-furlong distance and handed consecutive wins in the Carter to Zito, who won the race last year with Morning Line .
It was the second grade I win for 5-year-old Jackson Bend, who captured the Forego Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course last summer.
Bred in Florida by Jacks or Better Farm, Jackson Bend is by Hear No Evil out of the Tabasco Cat mare Sexy Stockings.
The race got off to an odd start when expected pacesetter Emcee lost his footing at the start and trailed out of the gate. Shackleford, last year's Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner, inherited the lead for Jesus Castanon as a result and carved early splits of :23.67 and :46.98.
Fourth early, Jackson Bend progressed to pressure Shackleford on the turn before poking his head in front in upper stretch. Those two battled through the lane as Caleb's Posse wound up his patented late run.
"You know, I was watching the race, and I basically said, ‘It’s your race to win now, Jack’ when he got up with Shackleford," Zito said. "That was some thrill, I tell you. It’s amazing, this business. You know, as a groom, I grew up around here, and I watched the race from right over there, where I used to watch it when I rubbed horses. I put my foot under a lucky spot from when I used to rub horses. It’s just a great feeling. I have to thank God and thank everything.”
Zito said the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) on May 28 at Belmont Park would be next for Jackson Bend. “Absolutely. The best thing is to just wait for that.”
Jackson Bend improved to 9-6-4 in 25 races with earnings of $1,580,950. He won for the second time in three starts in 2012 after beginning the season Jan. 14 with a victory in the Hal's Hope Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park. He came back with a third-place finish behind Mucho Macho Man in the one-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) March 10.
Carrying 120 pounds, Jackson Bend paid $11.40 and $4.10. Caleb's Posse, last year's Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) victor for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel, lost his second straight heartbreaker following his neck loss to Calibrachoa in the Tom Fool. He returned $2.90 as the 122-pound top weight and rounded out a $24.20 exacta. There was no show wagering.
Von Hemel said he would like to bring back Caleb's Posse for the Metropolitan, setting up an intriguing rematch.
"He came up a nose short today, so we’ll have to come try him again, I guess," Von Hemel said. "Jackson Bend kind of made a little earlier move than we did and we just couldn’t get him rounded up there. That’s horse racing. The horse ran well and we’re giving weight to everybody, too. If weight means anything, it means a nose.”