It took a wild stretch run and the perfect head bob, but Harlequin Ranches’ Spice Route earned his first victory on American soil, prevailing by the narrowest of margins over Soldier’s Dancer in the $100,000 Tropical Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) Dec. 6 at Calder Race Course.
Fourth at the top of the lane, Spice Route came charging from the outside during a contentious stretch run in which nearly the entire field was within striking distance. Ridden by Javier Castellano, Spice Route kept closing ground until taking the lead from a trio of horses in deep stretch. But further on the outside, Soldier’s Dancer also came flying with a late run under Manoel Cruz, and those two hit the wire together.
Though Soldier’s Dancer appeared to be slightly ahead at the wire, Spice Route put his head down at the perfect moment to earn the victory. It was his first graded stakes win.
The final time for 1 1/8 miles on the ‘firm’ turf was 1:48.41. Soldier’s Dancer, the post time favorite, was two lengths better than third-place A.P. Magic, who was sent off at 62-1. Ballast was fourth.
“My horse runs best coming from off the pace, but I didn’t want to be too far back,” Castellano said. “I had to move when I did to give my horse the best chance to win even though I knew that Soldier’s Dancer would be closing behind me. I just had to keep busy to hold him off.”
A.P. Magic set a leisurely pace in the Tropical Turf, loping along through fractions of :24.32, :49.51, and 1:13.28. Eventually, he was tackled by Silver Tree and Ballast, and those three were in a line as they straightened away for the stretch drive. A.P. Magic, who looked as though he had enough at the quarter pole, fought back gamely in the final furlong, outdueling his rivals for the lead inside the sixteenth-pole.
But Spice Route kept fighting on from the outside and took over in deep stretch. Soldier’s Dancer, who was further off the pace when entering the lane, joined the fray in the final yards.
“I was late getting down to the winner’s circle because I really couldn’t tell whether he won it or not from where I was watching,” said trainer Roger Attfield, who saddled Callwood Dancer to a second-place finish in the My Charmer Handicap (gr. IIIT) earlier in the day. “I loved him today. I’m not sure what might be next for him until I talk with the owners.”
Spice Route, who was bred in England by Usk Valley Stud and is out of the In the Wings mare Zanzibar, was turning back in distance after four longer routes in Canada. He was runner-up in the Canadian International (Can-IT) two starts back and third in the Sky Classic (Can-IIT) last out. The 4-year-old King's Best gelding was ninth in his only other U.S. start, which came in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) in June for trainer Patrick Gallagher.
Prior to coming to the U.S., Spice Route made 11 starts in England, winning twice for trainer Michael Bell. He has now earned $580,987.
Spice Route paid $8, $3.40 and $3.20. The exacta (4-2) returned $21.60, while the trifecta (4-2-7) was worth $374.
Icy Atlantic was fifth, followed by Silver Tree, Simmard and Minister's Joy.