Joseph Allen's favored War Front seized the lead on the turn and held sway through the stretch to register an impressive victory in the $208,200 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Saratoga Race Course Saturday.
Ridden by Jose Santos for trainer H. Allen Jerkens, War Front, a 4-year-old Kentucky homebred bay son of Danzig--Starry Dreamer (Rubiano), scored his first graded stakes victory by 2 1/2 lengths. The colt had recorded three successive second-place finishes in graded races this year, including a neck loss to Silver Train in Belmont Park's Tom Fool Handicap (gr. II) in his most recent start July 16.
The race set up beautifully for War Front, who settled in third while racing off the rail as the speed burner Afrashad blazed through an opening quarter-mile of :21 4/5. Godolphin's Afrashad, undefeated in three starts coming into the race, backed up quickly on the turn as outsider Bishop Court Hill took over the lead. But War Front, rallying four wide, surged past both of the front runners after a half-mile in :45 and was firmly in control at the head of the lane. War Front continued to edge away while drifting through the lane as Judiths Wild Rush and Mass Media unsuccessfully attempted to muster a late charge. The winning time was 1:10 1/5 for the six-furlong event.
"I didn't want to be too far back because he has a lot of speed," Santos said of War Front. "I was surprised to see Bishop Court Hill tire so quickly. Turning for home, I asked my horse for run and he really kicked in. He finished well. The track is a little slow today. They should have finished in 1:09, but it is a pretty good time considering the track is slow."
War Front, who paid $5.50, $3.20, and $2.50, improved his record to 4-3-1 in 10 lifetime starts with earnings of $294,205.
Jerkens originally planned to use John Velazquez, who rode at Arlington Park on Saturday.
"(Velazquez) was riding him every day," Jerkens said. "He assured me every day until Thursday that he was riding him. Santos always did ride him good.
"The fact that the track wasn't lightning fast helped (War Front)," said Jerkens, who won the Darley Test Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga with Swap Fliparoo Aug. 5. "The longer he runs, if he stays sound, the more he'll rate. Hopefully, he'll be sound enough for the Forego. He won't need much work for that, but it's going to be a tougher field. That's the next plan, if everything goes okay."
The $250,000 Forego Handicap (gr. I) at seven furlongs will be run at Saratoga on Sept. 2. That also appears to be the likely next start for Vanderbilt runner-up Judiths Wild Rush.
"I can't complain about his effort, that's for sure," said Judiths Wild Rush's trainer, Reade Baker. "We'll have to come back to the Forego – he paid for the trip today. I've always felt that seven furlongs around one turn was his best game."
Judiths Wild Rush ($4.40, $2.80), ridden by Kent Desormeaux, took second by 1 1/2 lengths, while Mass Media ($3) and Javier Castellano finished third, 4 3/4 lengths clear.
Afrashad was fourth, followed by Bishop Court Hill and Thunder Touch.