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Warrior's Reward gets his nose in front of Musket Man to win the Carter.
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Warrior's Reward Edges Musket Man in Carter

The 4-year-old won his first stakes April 3 at Aqueduct

Warrior's Reward , with Julien Leparoux aboard, caught Musket Man in deep stretch and nosed out his rival during a head-bobbing finish in the $250,000 Carter Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO) April 3 at Aqueduct.

Owned by A. Miles Jr., and trained by Ian Wilkes, Warrior’s Reward scored his first stakes win in the seven-furlong event. Prior to the Carter, Warrior’s Reward was best known for finishing runner-up to Kensei as a 3-year-old in last season’s Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga.

Last after a half-mile and checked heading into the turn, Warrior’s Reward began his winning move with a sweeping six-wide bid nearing the quarter-pole while picking off four of his rivals. But entering the stretch he still narrowly trailed Musket Man and Ramon Dominguez, who had split horses in upper stretch along the inside and took over from pacesetter Digger.

It wasn’t until the final yards that Warrior’s Reward stuck his nose in front of Musket Man. An even then, it took a photo to decide the winner.

“I moved up on the turn just to get a little position and he just dragged me all the way to the front,” Leparoux said. “He’s a real nice seven-eighths-to-a-mile horse, and I think one turn will be best. (Musket Man) ran a great race, too. He’s a really good horse and so is mine, and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun this year.” 

Eric Fein and Vic Carlson's Musket Man, a two-time graded-stakes winner as a 3-year-old and classic-placed in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I), was 4 1/2 lengths in front of third-place Munnings , who failed as the 6-5 favorite in his sixth attempt to score a grade I win.

Elusive Warning was fourth, followed by Digger and Driven by Success. The final time on a fast main track was 1:21.62.

Warrior’s Reward, a son of Medaglia d'Oro —For All You Do, by Seeking the Gold, was making his second start of the season. The 4-year-old bay colt won an optional claimer Feb. 11 at Gulfstream Park during his first run under Leparoux. Overall, he improved to 4-4-1 from 12 starts with earnings of $418,442. The winner was bred by Jayeff B Stables.

“After he couldn’t get the distance in the Travers (gr. I, last summer at Saratoga when fifth), we decided, let’s make him a one-turn horse, seven-eighths or a mile,” Wilkes said. “Let’s make him a really good horse. He wants to be a good horse.

“When Julien pulled him to the outside, I knew he had a lot of horse and I know what this horse can do. I actually felt really good when he came around the turn and was just traveling so easy. He needs to relax and stay off the pace a little bit, that’s where his strength is.”
Musket Man's trainer, Derek Ryan, who also lost a heartbreaking photo with Schoolyard Dreams last month in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III), was understandably downtrodden.
“I don't want to see another photograph," Ryan said. "There was nothing that we could do. It's a tough beat. We'll probably bring him to Churchill Downs, then to Belmont for the Met Mile before we give him a rest for the summer.”
Sent off as the third choice, Warrior’s Reward paid $9.10, $4.40, and $2.50. The exacta (2-4) returned $26.40 and the trifecta (2-4-5) paid $41.60.