Rush Bay Holds Off Purim in Opening Verse

(from Churchill Downs report)
Rush Bay, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, rallied from just off the pace and held off Purim in a long stretch duel to score a head victory in Saturday's $109,000 Opening Verse Handicap for 3-year-olds and up on the turf at Churchill Downs.

Trained by Tom Amoss, the 4-year-old son of Cozzene covered 1 1/16-miles on "firm" turf in 1:42.52 and paid $7.40, $3 and $2.60 as the second choice in a field of five. The favored Purim, ridden by Robby Albarado and trained by Tom Proctor, fell just short after a stretch-long rally and returned $2.40 and $2.20. Free Thinking, who set a moderate pace under Calvin Borel, held on for third and paid $3.

On the Acorn finished fourth in a field reduced to five horses with the late scratches of Everything to Gain and Mad Adam. Senor Swinger, who had won the first two renewals of the Opening Verse, failed to threaten in his bid for a "hat trick" and finished last.

The victory aboard Rush Bay in the Opening Verse was the fifth win on the day for Bejarano, who surged past apprentice jockey Julien Leparoux into first place in the battle for leading rider of the Churchill Downs spring meet with the win.

Owned by the Mueller Thoroughbred Stable of Phoebe Mueller, Rush Bay won for the third time in four races on Churchill Downs' Matt Winn Turf Course. He was second in his only defeat on the course. Rush Bay, who won the Jefferson Cup (gr. IIIT) over the Churchill turf course in 2005, improved his overall record to 5-3-1 in 13 races and boosted his earnings to $376,653.

Free Thinking assumed the lead at the start of the Opening Verse and led the field through easy fractions of :24.71 for the first quarter, :49.22 to the half-mile and six furlongs in 1:13.19. Bejarano edged Rush Bay closer to the leader approaching the far turn while Purim saved ground along the hedge in third. Rush Bay overtook Free Thinking midway through the turn and grabbed a narrow advantage, while Albarado swung Purim to the outside to launch his stretch rally. The winner moved clear of Free Thinking in upper stretch, but was confronted by Purim with an eighth of a mile to go, and the top pair battled on nearly even terms on the run to the wire. Rush Bay never surrendered his lead throughout that battle and held Purim safe in the final yards.

"It was a rider's race, and post position played a big part in the win," said Amoss, who notched his tenth stakes victory at Churchill Downs. "I think being in the outside post position, the seven hole, as opposed to being on the inside where the favorite (Purim) was in the one hole made a big difference. We were able to do whatever we wanted in the race."

(Chart, Equibase)