Notional pulls away to take the Salvator Mile.

Notional pulls away to take the Salvator Mile.

Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

Notional Pulls Salvator Mile Upset

The former Triple Crown contender won for the first time since February of 2007

Dismissed at odds of 7-1 in a field of six, Notional lagged behind in the early stages, made his presence known at the quarter-pole, and took over at the top of the lane en route to a 2 1/4-length victory in the $300,000 Salvator Mile Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO) July 5 at Monmouth Park.

The race was the first North American Breeders’ Cup Challenge event of the season and gave Notional an automatic berth in the $1-million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile Oct. 24 at Santa Anita.

Under the confident handling of Joe Bravo, Notional was fifth, more than six lengths behind, after a half-mile before getting into contention around the final turn. He drew even with pacesetter and odds-on favorite Gottcha Gold with two furlongs to go and then streaked past the longtime leader in upper stretch. Gottcha Gold, the winner of last year's Salvator Mile, was a clear second under Eddie Castro, 2 1/4 lengths in front of Honest Man. Indy Wind was fourth.

The final time on a fast main track was 1:35.84.

Notional was having an uneventful 4-year-old season entering the Salvator Mile. He had finished no better than sixth in his previous three races. He was last in the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I) March 28, sixth in the Tiznow Stakes at Hollywood Park April 27, and most recently, seventh in the Shoemaker Mile (gr. I) May 26. His only time on the board this year was in his 2008 debut when he finished third in the Feb. 17 Daytona Handicap at Santa Anita. All four of those starts were either on turf or artificial surfaces.

Owned by J. Paul Reddam, Notional was running for East Coast-based trainer Mark Hennig for the first time after being moved from the barn of Doug O’Neill in California. The son of In Excess was a 3-year-old star while racing towards the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), taking the San Rafael (gr. II) and Risen Star (gr. III), and also finishing second in the Florida Derby (gr. I). Unfortunately, he suffered a cannon bone fracture while preparing for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) and was sidelined for more than 13 months.

Overcoming the serious injury made the bay colt's Salvatore effort a satisfying victory for Reddam and Hennig.

“Mr. Reddam thought the artificial surface in California wasn’t suiting him well,” Hennig said. “He thought he’d be better back on dirt. He sent him to me in New York at the beginning of June. Doug (O’Neill) and I talked about him. He was frustrated out there. He didn’t know if he could attribute it to the surface or his injury after the Florida Derby. Doug and I worked together well; it was an East-West attack.”

Said Bravo, who was riding Notional for the first time: “I looked at this horse on paper and the only times he didn’t run well was on turf, Polytrack, or in Dubai. He’s a very nice dirt horse. I may have underestimated him going into this race, but he certainly proved me wrong. He ran tremendous.

“I was sitting way off the pace early, and when I asked him I went from about six to seven lengths back to right up with the leader. I thought I may have moved too soon, but luckily not. Gottcha Gold was battling back, but my horse put him away inside the sixteenth pole and ran on from there.”

Bred in California by Vessels Stallion Farm, Notional is out of the French Deputy mare Truly Blessed. He is now 4-1-2 from 11 starts and has earned $695,740. The victory gave Notional an automatic berth in the $1-million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile Oct. 24 at Santa Anita.

(Chart, Equibase)