Heavily favored Friend Or Foe returned to the winner’s circle at Belmont Park with a front-running stakes-record victory in the $200,000 Empire Classic (VIDEO) for New York-breds, the centerpiece of New York Showcase Day Oct. 23.
Trained by John Kimmel for Chester and Mary Broman, the 3-year-old colt by Friends Lake--Unbridled Star, by Unbridled, grabbed the lead soon after the gates opened and cruised through unpressed fractions of :23.15, :46.79, and 1:10.39. Set down at the head of the lane by jockey Alex Solis, Friend Or Foe pulled away from his nine rivals and hit the wire five lengths in front, covering the 1 1/8 miles in strong time of 1:46.94 over a fast track.
His time easily eclipsed the previous stakes record of 1:48.00 set by Instant Friendship in 1997. (From 1976 through 1994, the race was called the Empire Stakes for 2-year-olds going six furlongs.) The Belmont record for nine furlongs is held by Secretariat, who was clocked in 1:45 2/5 in winning the Marlboro Cup Invitational Handicap on Sept. 15, 1973.
“All along I’ve felt he is one of those horses who can give you an easy :22, :45 and keep going as long as you keep him in a rhythm,” said Solis, who rode the chestnut colt in a race for the first time. “I just wanted to put him in the race right away, break as sharp as we could, put him in the bit, and let him do his own thing.”
Friend Or Foe, who was coupled in the wagering with the Broman’s Mine Over Matter, returned $4.60 for a $2 win bet to his backers in the crowd of 5,452. He lifted his record to four wins from six starts and 3-for-3 over the Belmont main track. He won the Mike Lee Stakes over state breds in June.
Icabad Crane, whose awkward break left in him in last place at the start, rallied through the stretch to edge Wishful Tomcat for second by three-quarters of a length. He was followed in turn by Ruffino, Manteca, Mine Over Matter, Giant Moon, Star of New York, Ibboyee, and Stormy's Majesty.
Winner of his first three starts, including a maiden win in open company, Friend Or Foe next stepped up into open stakes company and finished fourth in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga. He then ran a rough-and-tumble sixth in the Travers (gr. I) Aug. 28, in which he suffered a puncture wound in his left foreleg that subsequently became infected.
“This is a good horse,” said Kimmel after collecting his first Empire Classic win. “As he started widening at the eighth pole, I didn’t think anyone was going to catch him. If he stays healthy, I think he’s got a real nice future. He’s capable of running with any kind.”
Kimmel said the next start for Friend Or Foe could be the $250,000 Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct Nov. 27.
“He’s pretty versatile; he can run seven-eighths to 1 1/8 miles,” said the trainer. “This horse has shown me now what he does in the mornings is no mirage, and that what he does is translating into being a serious horse on the racetrack.”
Six additional stakes for New York-breds were also held at Belmont.
Favored You Go West Girl closed into tepid fractions to win going away by two lengths in the $125,000 Ticonderoga for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on the inner turf course (VIDEO).
While Chorus Music and Exclusive Scheme led the field through opening fractions of :25.15 and :49.64 on firm going, jockey Jose Lezcano had You Go West Girl well-held in ninth. As the field turned for home, he guided the 6-year-old daughter of Mr. Greeley to the outside for running room, and she kicked in late to mow down the field.
Trained by Tom Proctor for Craig Bernick, she won in 1:49.32. Chorus Music and Exclusive Scheme held on for second and third, respectively.
Meese Rocks put in a terrific front-running performance to take the $125,000 Iroquois for fillies and mares by 2 ¼ lengths as the 4-1 second choice (VIDEO). Sent to the lead from post 10 in the seven-furlong test under jockey Ramon Dominguez, the 5-year-old daughter of Rock and Roll set swift fractions of :22.50 and :45.91.
Trained by Edward Barker for Henry, Jamie, and Joseph Terranova, Meese Rocks shook loose and widened her advantage at the top of the stretch, completing the distance in 1:23.64. R Betty Graybull came from the back of the pack to finish second, with My Dinah running third. Favored Sapphire Sky finished 10th in the field of 11.
Widest of all around the turn and into the stretch, odds-on choice Bandbox still scored a decisive 1 ¼-length score in the $100,000 Sleepy Hollow (VIDEO).
The 2-year-old son of Tapit was ridden confidently by Dominguez after stumbling at the start, biding his time down the backstretch in seventh. The 3-5 favorite launched a five-wide bid as the field headed into the turn, picking off opponents steadily and striking the lead with a furlong left to run. He completed the seven furlongs over the main track in 1:24.38, with Luxury Appeal and Crea's Law completing the trifecta.
Trained by Rodney Jenkins for Hillwood Stable, Bandbox is pointing towards the $1 million Delta Jackpot (gr. III) Nov. 20 at Delta Downs.
With a final surge, Pocket Cowboys swept past the 6-5 favorite Straight Story in deep stretch to win the $125,000 Mohawk by 1 ¼ lengths over 1 1/8 miles on the inner turf course (VIDEO).
Sent off as the 5-1 third choice, the 4-year-old Wild Event gelding tracked in third behind the fractions of :23.91 and :47.54 set by Straight Story, who had early company from 26-1 shot Midnight Billy. Straight Story shook off the challenge around the far turn to lead by 1 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole, but didn’t have enough to hold off the late rally from Pocket Cowboys and jockey Edgar Prado, who completed the trip in 1:48.44.
The winner is owned, trained, and was bred by Scott Schwartz, and picked up the second stakes win of his career. It was 3 ½ lengths back to Kutais in third.
“We’ve got the best of both worlds: the father’s [Wild Event] stamina and the mother’s (Lotsa Sprinkles) speed,” Schwartz said. “It worked out perfectly as we knew the favorite, Straight Story, would go for the lead. Somebody pressed him a little, and we got the trip. It worked out nicely.”
Form held in the $100,000 Maid of the Mist for juvenile fillies as the 8-5 favorite Sentimental Lass set the early fractions and repelled a stretch bid from narrow second choice Saltamontes to register a one-length score (VIDEO).
Trained by David Duggan for J Z B Racing Stable, LLC, the 2-year-old daughter of Freud led through splits of :22.83 and :46.41 under confident handling from jockey Rajiv Maragh. Saltamontes took a run at the leader coming into the stretch, but Sentimental Lass outfought her opponent to complete the seven furlongs in 1:24.64. Floating Alone finished third.
The 3-year-old Freud colt registered his first victory against older opponents and helped jockey Javier Castellano celebrate his 33rd birthday in style.
Owned by Michael Imperio, Goldmark Farm, and Elizabeth Loftus, General Maximus returned $12.20 as the third choice, completing the six furlongs in 1:08.84. Longshots Be Bullish and Raynick's Jet were second and third, while even-money favorite Endless Circle finished sixth.