Kinross Farm's Sur La Tete tracked favorite McDynamo until the final turn and drew off to win the $156,375 Royal Chase (NSA-I) for hurdlers under rainy skies at Keeneland Friday.Trained in Virginia by Neil Morris, the winner ended a nearly one-year layoff with a powerful performance. The 8-year-old son of Sky Classic sat just off the flank of two-time steeplechase champion McDynamo early, eased into contention as the pace increased down the backside the final time, and took over with a sweeping move just past the 11th of 13 fences. From there, he accelerated away and scored by 10 lengths while negotiating the final two fences alone. He covered the 20 furlongs over a soft turf course in 4:56.34. Mauritania ($10, $6.20) finished second by a neck, with Feeling So Pretty ($9.40) closing late for third. Morris acknowledged he has his mind on ending McDynamo's reign as Eclipse Award winner.
"That would be a dream," Morris said. "Every time we get him to the races, he runs a big race."The winner paid $5.20, $3.80, and $3.60 as the 8-5 second choice. Favored McDynamo (6-5) was pulled up at the top of the stretch. McDynamo was bidding for a second Royal Chase win under top weight of 166 pounds. "I think the weight really got the best of him today," said jockey Jody Petty. "He was giving between eight and 32 pounds to the other horses in the field. He usually likes the soft going, but he just wasn't himself today."Free Admission, who led at the two-mile mark before being passed by Sur La Tete, fell at the 12th fence. Erin Go Bragh lost jockey Matt McCarron at the ninth. Both horses and jockeys were uninjured."The plan was to stay as close to McDynamo as we could and watch the chess game unfold," said winning jockey Chris Read. "We got up close to him going to the last on the back. I sort of popped to the outside a little bit and he arrived. I didn't want to stop my horse's momentum, so I just let him go and he kept striding out."Sur La Tete improved to 8-for-17 over jumps (including 11 straight top-three finishes) and the $93,825 winner's share lifted his steeplechase bankroll to $537,050. Bred in Kentucky by Rutledge Farm, Sur La Tete never raced for his breeder and was purchased by Kinross as an unruly 3-year-old. Still a nervous type, he takes special care leading up to his races. That's why Morris opted to send his horse to Pin Oak (home of Sur La Tete's sire) to unwind for a few days ahead of the race."He's somewhat complicated, a little bit of a freak, and that's the reason we have him," said Morris. "We have to get him here earlier, he takes a little more care, but it's just him. You have to listen to the horse, understand what he's telling you. Josephine Abercrombie was generous enough to let us stay at Pin Oak Farm."Sur La Tete beat McDynamo twice last spring, but missed the fall season with a foot injury. McDynamo went on to win the Eclipse Award with back-to-back grade I scores at the end of the season.Capital Peak finished fourth.(Chart, Equibase)