Fabulous Strike, after setting blazing fractions throughout, held off defending champion Benny the Bull late to win the 31st running of the $250,000 True North Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO), the initial stakes action on the June 6 Belmont Stakes day card.
The 6-year-old Smart Strike gelding, out of the Lost Code mare Fabulous Find, was making his third start of the season, having rolled a pair of close seconds initially in the General George Handicap (gr. II) at Laurel in February, and then in the Carter Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct April 19. Fabulous Strike had won the grade I Vosburgh over the Belmont strip in 2007, and his six-furlong True North time of 1:07.85 just missed the 1999 track record of 1:07.66 set by Artax.
Fabulous Strike broke well from the outside in the six-horse field, grabbing the lead shortly after the start. But up the backstretch, Sixthirteen, who was flat-footed at the start and trailed the field, came with a blitz from the outside and began a head-to-head duel that lasted through a quarter mile in :21.85 and a half in a brave :43.62. But Fabulous Strike wasn’t fazed by the unexpected company, and fled from Sixthirteen shortly after straightening for home.
That was when defending True North winner Benny the Bull, who was making his first start in 11 months, started his charge to the outside of Fabulous Strike. Benny the Bull loomed large with a furlong left to run, but failed to make an impression on Fabulous Strike, who kicked on to the wire 1 1/4 lengths in front. Benny the Bull likely needed the race, and defeated Silver Edition by 2 1/2 lengths for second. Two Step Salsa finished fourth.
“That other horse (Sixthirteen) was on a suicide mission,” said winning jockey Ramon Dominguez. “But my horse is just a running machine.”
Owned and bred in Pennsylvania by Walter Downey's Tea Party Stable, Fabulous Strike is conditioned by Todd Beattie. He has won 13 of his 22 lifetime starts and has banked nearly $1.2 million.
Other big wins for Fabulous Strike came in last year's Fall Highweight and Gravesend Handicaps, both grade IIIs at Aqueduct. He upped his remarkable record at Belmont to 4-1-0 from six starts and is also now 10-2-0 from 15 starts at six furlongs.
“He loves going six furlongs at Belmont," Beattie said. "I knew we were caught up in that 21 and 4 first quarter. But I also knew that Sixthirteen had to run a lot faster because he started flat-footed. I felt comfortable that he was not going to run by us. I know the track had a speed bias, and I didn’t mind that.
"We won’t rush back into anything. I’ll have to speak to Mr. Downey to discuss our options. Fabulous Strike runs pretty hard and I don’t want to abuse him."
The winner returned $3.80, $2.60, and $2.10. Benny the Bull was good for $3.20 and $2.80, while Silver Edition paid $4.40 to show. The exacta (6-1) was $12.40 and the trifecta (6-1-2) returned $68.50.