A grade I winner last year, Jackson Bend was sent off as the 9-10 favorite in the one-mile Hal’s Hope. He raced from off the pace and found himself in striking position but behind a wall of horses coming off the turn. After Velazquez angled him out for the stretch drive, the 5-year-old colt responded with a powerful run to score by one length over Sangaree.
The son of Hear No Evil earned the second graded stakes win of his career, beginning the season impressively in his first start since finishing third in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs.
Robert LaPenta and Fred Brei own the chestnut horse, who is out of the Tabasco Cat mare Sexy Stockings. Brei’s Jacks or Better Farm bred him in Florida. Nick Zito is the trainer.
After a poor break from his rail post, Jackson Bend was next to last in a field of eight after a half-mile as Will's Wildcat set the pace while posting splits of :24.30 and :47.44. Decisive Moment and Successful Mission were his closest pursuers, and those two eventually took over approaching the quarter pole.
Jackson Bend inched closer to the front when they turned for home but was behind four horses, including defending Hal’s Hope winner Soaring Empire and longshot Cool Blue Red Hot, with no place to go. So Velazquez swung him wide for his stretch run. They were on even terms with Sangaree and Rajiv Maragh at that point, and those two began their assault on the leaders from the outside.
Jackson Bend continued his powerful drive, made the front nearing the sixteenth pole, and was much the best when they hit the wire. Sangaree also ran well in the final furlong to get second, a neck in front of Cool Blue Red Hot.
The final time on the fast dirt was 1:38.19.
“I’ve been watching replays of his races and he can be a little bad (at the break),” Velazquez said. “He didn’t really stumble, but he didn’t break that well. I was sort of biding my time around the turn. I didn’t know if I should go inside or outside. But then I took the easy way out and said, ‘I’ll just take him outside.’ It worked great.”
Jackson Bend’s other graded stakes win came in the Sept. 3 Forego (gr. I) at Saratoga. In his start prior to that, he broke a 12-race losing streak by winning the James Marvin Stakes over the same track. Both were at seven furlongs. This win improved his record to 8-6-3 from 23 starts and earnings of $1,310,950.
“He’s got a tremendous heart. He’s very special. He has the guts of a lion,” Zito said. “I’m going to suggest to Mr. LaPenta that we keep him in races up to a mile. That’s what he’s happy doing. He ran so good to be third in the Preakness (gr. I) you would think he liked the distance, but I think that was just on class. I’d like to take a shot at the Met Mile (gr. I) with him. I’ve been second in it a couple times. We’ll probably run him here one more time.”
The winner paid $3.80, $2.80, and $2.20. The exacta (1-3) returned $14.80 and the trifecta (1-3-8) with 28-1 Cool Blue Red Hot was $59.40 for $1.
Soaring Empire, the second choice, finished fourth. He was followed by Decisive Moment, Sky Venture, Successful Mission, and Will's Wilcat.