Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens got the 2010 Belmont Park spring meet off to a flying start when his 27-1 shot Le Grand Cru edged away in the final sixteenth of a mile to win the $100,000 Westchester Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO) on opening day April 30.
Battling on the lead for jockey Cornelio Velasquez throughout the one-mile main track event, Le Grand Cru was shaken off on the turn for home by pacesetter Ironman Jon only to fire back in the lane to get control late, coming home in a solid time of 1:34.89 on a fast track.
The stalker Convocation ran on for second for Edgar Prado, nipping Ironman Jon and Ramon Dominguez by a head. Odds-on favorite Bribon, winner of the Westchester last year, was rank on the backstretch and went four wide on the final turn before flattening out in the stretch to finish fifth.
Le Grand Cru, who carried top weight of 121 pounds, was the third-longest shot in the field of eight. The 5-year-old son of Dynaformer ran 10th of 11 in his last start March 13 in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II), also at the one-mile distance.
“I didn’t think he’d be that big a long shot," said Jerkens after claiming his sixth Westchester. "I don’t know why he didn’t run so well in Florida, but we gave him a rest and he had a couple of real nice works, just great."
Jerkens said he would consider the $500,000 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) on May 31 next for Le Grand Cru.
Le Grand Cru was close up throughout as Ironman Jon carved quarter-mile fractions of :23.34, :46.15 and 1:09.52.
“My horse broke on the lead and stayed in a good position," Velasquez said. "He relaxed, didn’t fight. Ramon Dominguez had a lot of horse (aboard Ironman Jon), but my horse ran a big one. He likes it here at Belmont Park.”
Le Grand Cru has won three of four starts on the Belmont main track.
Owned by Judson Streicher, Le Grande Cru won both the Kelso (gr. III) and Bold Ruler (gr. III) handicaps in New York last year and improved his lifetime record to 5-3-2 in 18 races with earnings of $433,578. Earle Mack bred the dark bay or brown horse in Kentucky from the El Gran Senor mare Ice the Champagne.
The winner paid $56.50, $18.40 and $10.40 and topped a $204.50 exacta. Second choice Convocation, coming off a five-length allowance win at Gulfstream in his seasonal debut for Jimmy Jerkens March 18, returned $4.50 and $3.70. Ironman Jon was $4.20 to show in his stakes debut for trainer Michael Hushion.