Claimed twice for $20,000 this year, Gran Estreno earned a starting berth in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) when he led all the way to win the $200,000 Washington Park Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO) at Arlington Park Sept.5.
The victory was the sixth in a row for the Argentina-bred Gran Estreno and his first graded stakes score. Jockey E.T. Baird milked glacier-like fractions in the 1 3/16-mile Polytrack event and Gran Estreno turned it on in the stretch to score by a half-length over Dubious Miss. A group I winner in his native country, the 6-year-old son of Lucky Roberto tallied in the Claiming Crown Emerald on the Canterbury Park turf course in his most recent prior start July 25.
The Washington Park is a Breeders' Cup Challenge race for the Classic division, but it remains to be seen if Gran Estreno will be at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 7 since he is not nominated.
Trainer Michael Stidham took Gran Estreno for $20,000 for Feel The Thunder Stable out of a claiming race at Arlington May 1. The chestnut horse was claimed for the same price by Larry Rivelli in his prior start March 27 at Gulfstream Park.
Breaking from the far outside in the Wahington Park's field of eight, Gran Estreno inherited the lead when no one else went for it, crawling through splits of :25.87, :52.42, and 1:19.25 while maintaining a length's advantage. Dubious Miss, racing second for Chris Emigh on the outside of the pacesetter, turned up the pressure approaching the quarter pole. But as they made their way into the stretch, Gran Estreno refused to cave in. Under urging from Baird, he edged away from Dubious Miss, who fought on desperately and was cutting into the lead as they reached the wire.
“There's no reason to push the horse harder than you have to,” said Baird. “It just turned into a sprint. My horse was running, he was flat out running. That last quarter mile we were throwing down some serious fractions. If anyone was going to run by us they would have been much the best because my horse was giving it everything he had.”
Church Service, the 5-2 favorite, showed no speed and finished last.
Gran Estreno won for the ninth time in 21 starts and he is six-for-eight this year. He increased his career earnings to $295,281 with the winning purse of $116,400. Eduardo Carlos Luther bred Gran Estreno, who is out of Great Stampa, by Senor Pete.
Sent off as the fourth choice, the winner carried 115 pounds and paid $12.20, $6.20, and $4.80. Dubious Miss, from the Paul McGee barn, returned $7.80 and $5.40 while completing a $2 exacta worth $82.20. Wicked Style, ridden by Jesus Castanon, was 1 1/2 lengths back in third and was $4.80 to show.
Wicked Style nosed out Eldaafer for third, with Palladio, Unusual Suspect, Let It Rock, and Church Service following.