Making his stakes debut against a stellar field of turf sprinters, Stratford Hill ran down pacesetter Great Attack late to score the $100,000 Shakertown (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) by a half-length April 16 at Keeneland.
It was the fourth consecutive win for Stratford Hill, a Florida homebred of Eugene Melnyk. John Velazquez guided the 4-year-old A.P. Indy colt to victory for trainer Todd Pletcher in a final time of 1:03.90 for 5 1/2 furlongs on a yielding turf course.
It was a tightly-bunched field of eight that sprinted into the turn, with Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IIT) winner Chamberlain Bridge battling with Great Attack on the front end, and Stratford Hill sitting just off of the leaders to the outside. The opening fractions were :22.52 and :45.97.
Chamberlain Bridge and Jamie Theriot floated a bit wide off the turn, while Great Attack and Garrett Gomez cut the corner nicely. Those two kept battling it out when they hit the top of the stretch, but Stratford Hill was always just off of them and kept charging until he finally surpassed Great Attack in deep stretch. Grand Adventure, who rallied from the far outside under Joel Rosario, was up late to edge Great Attack by a nose for second.
"I saw that the horse Jamie (Theriot) was on (Chamberlain Bridge) broke really well and then another horse (Great Attack) broke inside of me so I wanted to make sure that I was close enough to those horses," Velazquez said. "When I asked him to run down the lane, he was very game. I was very proud of him.”
Stratford Hill was winless in two dirt starts as a 3-year-old while being trained by Tom Albertrani. Pletcher switched him to turf at the beginning of 2011 and he has yet to lose. The chestnut colt broke his maiden Jan. 15 going five furlongs, won at the same distance in an allowance race the following month, and again in an optional claimer on March 13—all at Gulfstream Park.
Stratford Hill improved to 4-0-0 from six starts with earnings of $160,400. He is out of the Hennessy mare Harmony Lodge.
“Phil Hronec, the farm manager and racing manager, told me this horse was better on the grass and thought he was a good sprinter on the grass," Pletcher said. "He turned out to be 100 percent right. He just keeps getting a little better, handled some soft ground today. He’s just a real professional horse."
The winner paid $14, $5.20, and $3.30. The exacta (7-2) returned $79 and the trifecta (7-2-6) was worth $342.