Norvsky wins the San Gabriel Stakes.

Norvsky wins the San Gabriel Stakes.

Benoit Photography

Norvsky Charges to San Gabriel Victory

The 6-year-old Vronsky gelding wins his first graded race.

Norvsky charged past 7-10 favorite Jeranimo late in the stretch to capture the $150,000 San Gabriel Stakes (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) Jan. 16 at Santa Anita Park in California. A 6-year-old, hard-knocking gelding, Norvsky triumphed by 1 ½ lengths while notching his first victory in a graded race and completing 1 1/8 miles over a firm course in 1:47.03.

Jeranimo , who had triumphed in the San Gabriel in 2010, held on easily for second, finishing 2 ¾ lengths in front of The Usual Q.T. The latter was racing for the first time in more than seven months.

“I’m surprised that this horse could beat horses like Jeranimo (a winner of four graded events) and (grade I-winning millionaire) The Usual Q.T.; it’s impressive,” said Norvsky’s trainer, Don Warren.

The conditioner seriously had considered the Crystal Water Stakes, an ungraded. $100,000 event restricted to Cal-breds Jan. 28, as an alternative to the San Gabriel for Norvsky. The gelding labors in the shadow of stable star and champion Acclamation, who would have been Warren’s go-to horse for such a stiff challenger before he was sidelined last year by a foot problem.

Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, Norvsky was the second betting choice in the San Gabriel’s field of six and he broke last from the starting gate. Jeranimo, meanwhile, was a half-length behind 12-1 longshot Sandor after the first quarter mile, but pulled ahead soon afterward and got into a battle with The Usual Q. T.

Jeranimo and The Usual Q. T. were still fighting it out on the front when Norvsky started moving up.

“We were going really slow in the beginning and I was wondering if the pace would stay that way,” Bejarano said. “I just tried to get in close and not stay too far back. At the half-mile pole, I was trying to improve my position, and when I got to the stretch, my horse showed me a big kick. I knew he was going to win the race then. My horse is still learning, and I think the perfect distance for him is either a mile and one sixteenth or a mile and an eighth. He’s always very good at both distances.”

According to Mike Pender, who trains Jeranimo, the San Gabriel didn’t set up to suit his horse.

“This was the first time he was even on the lead by himself,”Pender said. “Going in we knew he might get a little confused by it and he did. He didn’t know what he was doing out there. He usually has a target; he runs better with a target. There was no speed in there and he inherited the lead.”

At the wire, The Usual Q. T. was only a neck in front of fourth finisher Ashstar. Trailing them were Imponente Purse and Sandor.

Norvsky collected his sixth victory in 18 career races and his $90,000 share of the San Gabriel purse raised his earnings to $487,844. The bay son of Vronsky was making his first start of 2012. He hadn’t raced since finishing fifth in the Hollywood Turf Cup Stakes (gr. IT) last Nov. 19. Prior to then in 2011, he had scored in the California Cup Classic Stakes and the California Dreamin’ Handicap.

E.W. and Judy Johnston of Old English Rancho race Norvsky in partnership with Robert Riggio. Old English Ranch bred the gelding in California. Norvsky is out of the winning Flying Paster mare Fimbrelith.

Norvsky’s payoffs for the San Gabriel were $8.20, $2.80, and $2.40. Jeranimo returned $2.20 and $2.10 while The Usual Q. T., who was the third betting choice, paid $2.20.