Le Grand Cru took advantage of a short field and a savvy ride by Jose Lezcano, rolling to a 1 1/2-length win in the off-the-turf $250,000 Kelso Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO) Oct. 4 at Belmont Park.
It was the first stakes win for Le Grand Cru, who is trained by Allen Jerkens for Judson Streicher. The 4-year-old son of Dynaformer covered one-mile on the “muddy” Belmont main track in 1:37.36.
Originally a grade II, the Kelso automatically loses one grade due to the surface switch pending a final review by the American Graded Stakes Committee.
Taken off the turf because of consistent rain in New York throughout the weekend, the Kelso went to post with only three horses after morning-line favorite Court Vision and Yorktown were scratched. Breaking from post 1, Le Grand Cru came out sharply in front but was taken wide by Lezcano, who invited Yield Bogey through the opening on the inside. Yield Bogey accepted and went to the lead with Jean-Luc Samyn aboard.
The strategy gave Le Grand Cru something to run at, and the dark bay colt tracked the pacesetter through fractions of :24.84 and :48.60 before taking over on the turn. Odds-on favorite Ready's Echo made his bid coming off the turn and chased Le Grand Cru through the stretch, but was never able to pose a serious threat.
“It was an easy trip in a three-horse race," Lezcano said. "He broke sharp and I thought the outside was better. When I asked him, he gave me everything he had.”
Ready’s Echo, with Julien Leparoux in the irons, was 21 1/4 lengths in front of Yield Bogey for second.
Le Grand Cru, who was bred in Kentucky by Earle Mack and is out of the El Gran Senor mare Ice the Champagne, had won just once in 10 starts this season before the Kelso. He scored an allowance victory June 25 at Belmont, also under Lezcano. The colt, now with earnings of $247,078, was fourth earlier this season in the Japiur (gr. IIIT) in his graded stakes debut.
“They take the grading away when it comes off the turf, but the money’s good," Jerkens said. "I thought (Ready’s Echo) would be very tough, but we were able to outgun him. We’ll take it.”
The winner paid $4.50. There was no place or show betting.
IEAH Stables and Resolute Group Stables’ millionaire Court Vision will now run in the $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) Oct. 10 at Keeneland, trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said.