Shadwell Stable's Shakis, cutting back to nine furlongs for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, rode the hedge to victory in the $200,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap (gr. IIT) (VIDEO), setting a record on the Mellon Turf Course in the process Aug. 25.
Ridden by Alan Garcia, the Irish-bred Shakis, carrying 116 pounds, was able to save ground while chasing the leaders all the way. Shakis crept up on pacesetter Ballast in the stretch and squeezed through a tight opening on the inside. Shakis actually bounced off the hedge at one point but still seized the advantage. The 7-year-old Machiavellian horse opened up a daylight lead inside the eighth pole and held off Big Prairie and Drum Major by three-quarters of a length. The final time, 1:45.33, shaved one-fifth off the track record on the hot, dry course.
“It was one of the biggest wins of my career," Garcia said. "I wanted to put him in the best position I could. I was not intimidated by being behind horses.”
The old course record was 1:45 2/5, set first by Tentam on Aug. 10, 1973, and later tied by Waya on Aug. 21, 1978.
Shakis had raced ineffectively in Dubai last year and was switched to McLaughlin's New York stable in May. He has turned around since transferring to America. In three prior starts -- all at Belmont Park -- Shakis won a 1 1/8-mile allowance/claiming optional race, then ran a huge race to finish third, beaten just a head, in the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT). He disappointed, though, when stretched out to 11 furlongs for the Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT), finishing fourth as the 6-5 favorite.
McLaughlin said he felt the Bowling Green distance was too great and cut Shakis back for the Aug. 25 race.
Ballast, ridden by Ramon Dominguez, outran Gun Salute and Cosmonaut for the early lead and set solid fractions of :23, :47 and 1:10 while leading by about a length. In spite of the hot pace, Ballast continued with determination on the front end to mid-stretch before tiring late. Shakis got first run to get clear and had enough to hold off the outsider Big Prairie, ridden by Javier Castellano, who angled outside of Ballast late to defeat Drum Major and Rafael Benarano for second.
Shakis won for the sixth time in 27 lifetime starts and increased his earnings to $496,389.
Sent off as the second choice, Shakis paid $12.60, $6.50 and $4.50. Big Prairie returned $17.80 and $10.60. The exacta paid a whopping $247.60. Drum Major was $6.50 to show.
Ballast held on fourth, while 8-5 favorite Cosmonaut finished fifth.
“I thought he went well, but he was giving the winner six pounds," said Patricke Biancone, trainer of Cosmonaut. "I think that made the difference.”
Woodlander, Stay Close, Silver Whistle, Linda's Lad and Gun Salute followed.