Jim Tafel's homebred Country Flavor, making his stakes debut for trainer Greg Geier, scored a 21-1 stunner in the $100,000 Hanshin Cup Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO) at Arlington Park May 29.
The second-longest shot in the field, Country Flavor stalked the early pace to get the lead coming into the stretch run of the one-turn mile event over Arlington's Polytrack. Under firm urging from jockey Inez Karlsson, the 4-year-old son of Empire Maker proved resolute to the wire, holding off the late-charging Tybalt by three-quarters of a length. The winning time was a slow 1:38.16.
"I know he likes the Polytrack," said Karlsson after claiming her first graded stakes victory. "Greg told me to sit off the pace a little bit because there was a lot of speed in the race but when I broke out of the gate there was no speed and I was sitting where I was. I had him in hand and I had a lot of horse on the turn that I thought I could steal it and that's what I did."
It was the second Hanshin Cup win in three years for Tafel and Geier who won the 2008 edition of the race with Coragil Cat.
Tybalt edged his Michael Stidham-trained stablemate Gran Estreno, the slight 3-1 favorite in the field of nine, by one length for second, with Victory Notion finishing fourth.
The Kentucky-bred Country Flavor is out of Tafel's stakes-winning mare Allspice, by Coronado's Quest. Allspice won the Sixty Sails Handicap (gr. III) at Hawthorne in 2004, giving Geier his first graded stakes win. Tafel, of course, also won the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) in 2007 with his homebred Street Sense .
Mad Flatter set the pace in the Hanshin Cup, with Wildeydsouthernboy and Country Favor following through moderate quarter-mile splits of :24.32 and :48.26. Country Flavor advanced on the turn to challenge the front-runner and got the advantage after six furlongs in 1:12.84 in spite of being bumped by Mad Flatter entering the homestretch. Recapturetheglory, always close to the pace, loomed a threat briefly, but it was Tybalt, ridden by Michael Baze, and Gran Estreno, with E.T. Baird aboard, who rallied through the lane. Tybalt showed his best late while rallying four wide to take second.
"Tybalt was back a little farther than I was hoping on such slow fractions," Stidham said. "That hurt him a little bit but he came running and that's the main thing. Both riders (Michael Baze on Tybalt and E. T. Baird on Gran Estreno) thought the track was (playing) a little slower today so it was hard to close on those fractions. Both horses ran well."
Country Flavor was coming off a last-place finish in a one-mile optional claiming allowance race in his turf debut May 9 at Arlington. He broke his maiden going a mile over the track's Polytrack surface last summer, however. His last win came in an optional claimer over a sloppy track at Fair Grounds Jan. 15 and he had lost three in a row since then. The bay gelding won for the fourth time in 13 lifetime starts and earned $57,600 to increase his career bankroll to $139,390.
Carrying 116 pounds, Country Flavor lit the board for a $44.40, $20.20 and $9 payoff, keying a $236 exacta. Tybalt, the narrow second choice to his stablemate, returned $5.20 and $3.80. Gran Estrreno, a former claimer who won the Washington Park Handicap (gr. III) over the track last September, was $3.20 to show.
It was 1 1/2 lengths to fourth-place finisher Victory Notion, who rallied from last. He was followed by Recapturetheglory, Mad Flatter, Wildeydsouthernboy, Brothers Nicholas and McLard.